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Entrepreneurs

Who Will Be 2017’s Top Entrepreneur?

By Vicky Janowski, posted May 5, 2017
Who would you invest $100,000 in?

That’s one of the pieces of advice we give our Coastal Entrepreneur Award judges each year when they’re faced with the task of making their picks.

Who shows high-growth potential?

Who is making a name for themselves and cutting through the noise?

Who, out of these stacks and stacks of nominations, do you see as
entrepreneurial?

And then we let the judges loose.

This year was no different as our panel of outside judges met to deliberate over the 10 category winners in this year’s CEA process. The nominations, submitted to the Greater Wilmington Business Journal from company employees, directors, clients and in some cases just outside admirers, represent a cross section of the region’s business community.

The awards are a joint effort between University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) and the Business Journal to identify and recognize fast-growing organizations and businesses with the potential to make a significant impact on the region.

Some of the judges this year were new to the process. Others are longtime reviewers, like SCORE’s Sara Raleigh who rightly corrected me this year when I lowered the hypothetical seed money from $100,000 to $10,000 during my intro at this year’s judging meeting. (I argue a dollar’s a dollar, and still wasted if pumped into the wrong company.)

Repeat judges like Raleigh know the impact winning one of these awards – or becoming the overall Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year – can have on a company.

Some have gotten real, not just hypothetical, investment offers because of it; all gain additional exposure through this special issue and the upcoming May 24 awards.

And one gets a sweet, wooden surfboard – custom made by local nonprofit and former CEA winner Kids Making It – to proudly display at their company for the next year. A second panel of judges meets with the 10 category winners and decides who gets the honor of being named the 2017 Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year – and the surfboard. It beats a wall plaque.

At last year’s award ceremony, a clearly moved Amy Wright accepted the moniker and surfboard from the previous year’s winner, dedicating it to her employees and pledging that Beau’s Coffee would fulfill the judges’ expectations with more locations around the country. Recently (the now named) Bitty & Beau’s Coffee announced that its second location, picked in part by loyal customers, will be opening in Charleston.

And at this year’s award ceremony at UNCW’s Burney Center, Wright will pass along the surfboard to a new Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year. Find out who that is on May 24.
 

JUDGING THE APPLICANTS

The Coastal Entrepreneur Awards (CEA) is run by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal and the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. CEA’s goal is to shine a spotlight on up-and-coming companies, helping them make connections in the community as well as showcase the region’s entrepreneurial activity.

The competition involves two rounds of judging in which the applicants are judged on two criteria:

Is the organization entrepreneurial?

Of those that are entrepreneurial, which organization is most likely to be financially successful.

For nonprofits, the standard is which is likely to have the most impact.

First, all the applications are evaluated by representatives of area business groups and the competition’s sponsors. This group picks the category winners.

A second round of judges selects the 2017 Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year.


The first-round judges were:

Alan Armstrong, SCORE

Jerry Coleman, CFCC Small Business Center

Diane Durance, UNCW CIE

Natalie English, Wilmington Chamber of Commerce

Dana Fisher, North Brunswick Chamber of Commerce

Seth Gearhart, BB&T

Tammy Proctor, Pender County

Sara Raleigh, SCORE

April Scott, Brunswick Small Business Center

Reggie Shropshire, ActionCOACH

Don Spry, SBA

Jason Wheeler, Pathfinder Wealth Consulting

The second-round judges were:

Jerry Coleman, CFCC Small Business Center

Diane Durance, UNCW CIE

JC Smith, Live Oak Bank

Merrette Moore, Tidewater Equity Partners

April Scott, Brunswick Small Business Center

George Taylor, Untappd, JOMO, National Speed and No Colors Brewing Co.

Amy Wright, Bitty & Beau’s Coffee (2016 Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year)

The 2017 Coastal Entrepreneur Awards ceremony takes place May 24. The breakfast event starts at 7:30 a.m. at UNCW’s Burney Center where the 10 winning companies will be honored and an overall winner announced. Go to CoastalEntrepreneur.com for more event or ticket info.

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