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Show of Hands: The Entrepreneurial Funding Opportunity for Every Business Startup or Significant Expansion in Lyon County

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | February 7, 2022
Colorful hands raising up

A couple of years ago, Emporia Main Street had an opportunity to participate in a study by the Brookings Institute. The study focused on the practices of three Main Street programs in the rural communities of Laramie, Wyoming; Wheeling, West Virginia; and Emporia, Kansas. While researchers were busy studying us, each community got the chance to study each other. We learned a lot by looking at Laramie and Wheeling, and one of the Wheeling internal programs seemed to fit a need in our region. “Show of Hands” is an entrepreneurial pitch concept that ties community members to real startups/expansions of locally owned businesses to foster growth.

Show of Hands resembles many pitch competitions with a few key differences. First, the Show of Hands concept is open to anyone starting or significantly expanding a business in Lyon County. The competition doesn’t limit itself to certain age ranges or organizational/institutional affiliations. Second, the community can get involved by voting for their favorite concepts with their dollars. The Show of Hands concept invites the public to the pitches with a cover charge, and that charge is converted to a grant to the entrepreneurial concept of their choice. Third, actual potential additional investors will be part of the competition, and can provide additional investment dollars for businesses that meet qualifications. Finally, and this is a REALLY important distinction: the dollars raised for individual entrepreneurs are distributed as a grant to offset actual business startup or expansion expenses for businesses starting up or expanding in Lyon County. This is not a public speaking contest or a theoretical pitch; Show of Hands is real dollars for real businesses.

How do you apply to enter the competition?
Click HERE for the entry information.

What are the relevant dates for the competition?
Entries should be submitted no later than noon on Friday, March 25th. After submissions, Show of Hands local leadership will be available for those that would like to hone their pitch. The actual competition will take place on the evening of April 7th at the Emporia Arts Center.

Is there funding beyond the ticket entry available for entrepreneurs?
Yes. ESB Financial and Network Kansas have already signed on as financial sponsors for cash grants. Emporia Main Street and Ignite Emporia are currently reaching out for additional prospective funding.

Are there non-financial incentives available?
Local businesses have expressed interest in supporting businesses with rent assistance, legal help, accounting support, and other types of assistance. If your business would like to support entrepreneurs through the Show of Hands project by donating products or services, please contact either Casey Woods at Emporia Main Street (click here) or Rob Gilligan at Ignite Emporia (click here).

What if we don’t end up starting or expanding a business?
If a business doesn’t start up or expand after being selected for funding, that funding will be made available for other entrepreneurs in future Show of Hands pitches.

Are there restrictions for business types?
The business needs to be a legal entity functioning in Lyon County, but beyond that there aren’t a lot of restrictions. This is a perfect chance for a tech business, a “maker” style business, services, retailers, restaurants or just about any other business type to build up cash to start up! Eventually we may specialize the pitches in future competitions, but our first competition will allow for various business types.

How long are the pitches?
We will allow for 7 minute pitches with 3 minutes of question/answer period. A panel will be available to facilitate questions and may extend the pitch time period if necessary.

Can entrepreneurs invite people to view the pitches (and donate)?
Absolutely. One of the most critical elements of entrepreneurship is the ability to motivate their target market. The Show of Hands pitch gives entrepreneurs an added incentive to get people involved in their business support at the ground level. From the community perspective, these types of pitches creates an ecosystem of “shared ownership” that enhances community support for new startups and expansions.

What if I have other questions?
Contact Emporia Main Street or Ignite Emporia, and we will do our best to help.

Entrepreneurship is the foundation of our region. Our locally owned businesses give us our best opportunity to create and retain wealth, develop new types of jobs, diversify our economy, and establish destination businesses. We need new tools to help us establish the next generation of businesses of all types, and ALL of us have a role to play in the support of existing entrepreneurs, expansion of current businesses, and the development of new entrepreneurs. Whether you are interested in attending the event, participating as an entrepreneur, donating cash for grants, or offering business services as part of a prize package, the Show of Hands concept is our way of pushing forward to provide more business tools to local entrepreneurs.

About the Author

Casey Woods, Executive Director

Before accepting the director position in March of 2009, Casey worked in both retail and agricultural jobs in the family businesses. A lifelong resident of the Emporia Area, Casey was a ten year volunteer for Emporia Main Street prior to his appointment as director. During that time he served as the board president and chair of the Economic Vitality Committee.

Casey also serves as a partner in PlaceMakers, LLC, a consulting firm that routinely works with both large and small communities, and their businesses, to promote sustainable economic growth through community and economic development practices. Casey consults with businesses, organizations and communities to understand their market capacity and fill vacant spaces. He has been involved in two projects that included crowdfunding as a part of their overall business funding strategies, Radius Brewing and Twin Rivers Winery & Gourmet Shoppe.