Valdosta Chamber Announces Southwest Georgia Bank’s Sponsorship of Annual Business Plan Competition

Cléa Hernandez

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

The Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce and Southwest Georgia Bank (SGB) have just announced SGB’s commitment to sponsoring the Chamber’s annual business plan competition for the next three years, from 2014 through 2016. SGB will be providing a total of $30,000 in start-up capital over the course of the sponsorship for the competition winners to come, an investment aimed at quickly stimulating economic growth in the community.

With the competition’s 2014 winner set to be announced on January 30th, stakes and hopes will be high for budding entrepreneurs entering the newly-named Southwest Georgia Bank Business Plan Competition for 2015, which opens the very next day. Courtesy of support from Chamber members, partners and sponsors, the business plan competition has awarded start-up capital and support to new businesses opened in Lowndes County for eight consecutive years. Among the most notable of these winners is information technology company Azalea Health, now headquartered in Downtown Valdosta.

“Southwest Georgia Bank recognizes that small business is the backbone of our economy,” states Jeff Hanson, Executive Vice President of SGB. “An investment in small business is an investment in our community. Our long term commitment to the Business Plan Competition is a great way for SGB to re-invest capital into the community that has been so supportive of us, and it further demonstrates our long term commitment to Valdosta–Lowndes County.”

Once the 2015 competition opens for submissions on Friday, January 31, 2014, the registration packet will become available to download and complete online. Southwest Georgia Bank will award $10,000 in start-up capital to the winner.

In addition to the monetary prize the winner receives, the Chamber coordinates in-kind contributions from local businesses that equate to thousands of dollars in products and services. The winner will also acquire a free Chamber membership, recognition in Chamber publications, and publicity throughout the year at Chamber functions and events.

“Capital for start-up businesses is often a major obstacle,” Hanson adds. “The SGB Business Plan Competition not only provides access to capital, it also provides assistance in developing viable business plans. These businesses target college and university graduates, which have proven to be critical in retaining local talent in our community.”

A host of resources will be available to participants during the course of the contest. The Chamber and its SEEDS Business Resource Center, an entrepreneurial resource center specializing in customized research and data, has partnered with the Small Business Development Center at Valdosta State University and Wiregrass Georgia Technical College to offer contestants business-related classes and workshops.

“We already have a lot of jobs available for high school and college students in the area, but through the Southwest Georgia Bank Business Plan Competition we now have an opportunity to increase our average weekly wage and attract more talent to our first rate institutions,” comments Varian Brown, Director of Economic Development at the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce.

Qualified Chamber members also volunteer countless hours presenting at the Chamber’s Business University Lunch-N-Learns, and providing free consultations to participants. Contestants learn about legal considerations, accounting, advertising and marketing for small businesses.

Ultimately, contestants are judged on their submitted business plans, their ability to hire college and university graduates, and the quality of their presentations. A group of five judges representing Southwest Georgia Bank, Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, Valdosta State University’s Small Business Development Center and the small business community will judge each business plan and the finalists during the “Finalist Pitch.”

While only the victor walks away with the spoils, the contest is structured to ensure that each contestant is given ample resources to complete a business plan, thus taking a tremendous first step toward entrepreneurship. “Our Chamber understands that along with proper guidance, access to capital and the major investment of time in researching, planning and revising a ‘working’ business plan can help increase the longevity of a small business,” adds Brown. “Because of the generosity of Southwest Georgia Bank and the support of our esteemed business community, we are able to offer every participant the possibility of these rewards.”

About Cléa Hernandez

Cléa Hernandez is a Savannah-based writer and communications specialist who serves up breaking business news for metropolitan Georgia. After earning a Philosophy degree from Fordham University, she forgot how to do everything but write and ask too many questions. So she became a journalist. Since then, Ms. Hernandez has written for local and national publications, non-profits, higher education, marketing firms, and big business. A recent escapee from the northeast hustle, the south summoned her with a whiff of collaborative innovation and authentic new enterprises.