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March 11, 2013 | Tom Ballard

Here’s a call for entrepreneurs with a really big idea

Have you had your thinking cap on recently? Let’s hope so, since it’s time once again for the annual “What’s the Big Idea?!” business plan competition.

The multi-stage event, focused on entrepreneurs, is presented by the Knoxville Chamber, Development Corporation of Knox County, and Tech 20/20 and sponsored by Rodefer Moss & Company, PLLC.

Over the course of several months, an unknown number of companies applying to be in the competition will be reduced in stages to 15, then nine, then three and ultimately one big winner. More important, the participants will receive mentoring and other training to help them be more successful in pitching their ideas.

For those who are not familiar with “What’s the Big Idea?!,” it is targeted at:

  • Companies that are a new, independent enterprise in the seed capital, start-up, or early growth/pre-profit stages;
  • Applicants who are at least 18 years of age; and
  • Companies that have a business plan clearly exhibiting a potential for growth and job creation in the Knoxville region.

The first and most important deadline is April 8 when any individual or company wanting to be considered for future rounds must submit an online application that is available at

One week after this initial deadline (April 15), the pool of applicants will be reduced to 15 contestants who will spend the next three weeks preparing for another down selection round. The “gang of 15” will attend several “Big Idea Launch Seminars” to help them be better prepared to deliver a five-minute pitch on “Team Selection Night” – May 7. During that event, all of the 15 contestants will pitch their ideas and be judged by three coaches who are successful entrepreneurs themselves.

Only nine semifinalists will survive the May 7 competition. Those that do will join one of three teams that will be mentored by the three coaches for another month, this time preparing them for the next phase, something called the “Knock-Out Competition.”

On June 3, the nine semifinalists will face-off against each other in three separate “Knock-Out Competitions.” An independent panel of judges will select a winner for each round. The three winners will advance to the “What’s the Big Idea? Finale,” which will be held June 20.

“The new format enhances the spirit of competition and camaraderie, adding an even greater level of excitement to this year’s event,” said Todd Napier, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Development Corporation. “Coaches have already expressed their commitment to winning and that drive, coupled with their experience and resources, will ultimately increase the overall value for everyone involved.”

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