JP in the News: Entrepreneurs invited to 2024 Metro East Start-Up Challenge

Andrew BarnesJP In The News

Entrepreneurs Invited to 2024 Metro East Start-Up Challenge

By , Small Business Development Center

2024 Metro East Start-Up Challenge

SIUE photo

EDWARDSVILLE — Entrepreneurs and new business startups are invited to compete in the 2024 Metro East Start-Up Challenge, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s 11th annual regional business plan competition.

The MESC is organized by the Illinois Small Business Development Center for the Metro East at SIUE. The purpose of the Challenge is to identify, encourage, and support entrepreneurs and business startups across the SBDC’s service area, including Jersey, Calhoun, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe, and Randolph Counties.

The competition continues to expand its reach, adding Fayette and Montgomery Counties in 2021 and Macoupin County in 2023.

The first-place winner will receive a $10,000 cash prize. Second, third, and fourth place winners will receive $6,000, $4,000, and $2,000, respectively. The four top prize winners will also receive an array of in-kind professional services to include a 2024 membership to Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, legal assistance from Beckemeier LeMoine Law, accounting services from Kerber Eck & Braeckel, LLP, web design services by Codd Interactive, cybersecurity/IT support from Global Enterprise Services and co-working space at The Lodge.

Interested businesses still have an opportunity to offer in-kind services through the Illinois SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE.

In 2023, the SBDC expanded two additional monetary award categories that were introduced in 2021. Besides Rural Business of the Year, sponsored by Dieterich Bank, the second category, Woman, Minority, or Veteran Business of the Year, is now divided as three individual prizes.

The City of O’Fallon is sponsoring the Veteran Business of the Year Prize, Justine Petersen will support the Minority Business of the Year and the Bank of Springfield is sponsoring the Woman Business of the Year. Each category will have the opportunity to receive $1,500 in prize money.

Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois will also continue to provide more mentorship opportunities through the Council’s vast network of business professionals and community leaders.

MESC is made possible through tremendous regional support. Sponsors include the SIUE School of Business, the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, Growth Corp, Anders CPA & Advisors, the City of Edwardsville, Dieterich Bank, City of Highland, Heartland Bank and Trust Company (Edwardsville and Fairview Heights locations), Carrollton Bank, St. Clair County Economic Development, the City of Alton, Regions Bank, Riverbend Growth Association, FCB Banks, Monroe County Economic Development Corporation, and University Park at SIUE.

Associated Bank and Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program are this year’s Platinum and Gold sponsors of the Mentor-Semifinalist Networking Event to be held at the Gateway Center in Collinsville.

SIUE’s School of Business, the SBDC’s host organization, will assist with facilitating the competition.

“The Metro East Start-Up Challenge elevates the discussion of, and support for, entrepreneurship across our region,” said Jo Ann Di Maggio May, SBDC Director. “Interest in the annual Challenge continues to grow with each passing year.”

The 2024 MESC encourages for-profit entrepreneurs and startup businesses to participate. For a startup business enterprise to be eligible, it must have been established after April 30, 2021, and be headquartered in the SBDC’s nine-county (plus Fayette, Montgomery, and Macoupin Counties) service area. For pre-venture entrepreneurs, proposed new business operations will need to be located within the same counties. Visit the website for restrictions and more details on MESC.

Past winners have said they are grateful to have competed and that the MESC positively and productively extended their business efforts, strengthening their entrepreneurial journey.

Stacy Fangmeyer and Amanda Krause, business partners and founders of Toast & Table, won second place in the 2023 MESC 2023 and had this to share: “Participating in the competition was so beneficial in several ways. The grant money was extremely helpful, but the networking with mentors and peers was priceless. If you’re on the fence, just do it. There is no downside to entering the Metro East Startup Challenge!”

Business partners and founders of A2 Creative, Inc-3d Gloop!, Andrew Mayhall and Andrew Martinussen took home the top prize in MESC 2021.

Mayhall and Martinussen described their competition experience: “The Metro East Startup Challenge is an incredible opportunity for local startups that deserves much broader recognition. The process of writing a formal business plan with the structure, and guidance provided through the IL SBDC and SIUE will help any startup, regardless of phase (idea, execution, etc.) thoroughly understand their business, market, and growth strategy. Having participated in multiple startup-focused contests we can confidently say the resources offered through this competition are second to none. If you are local and thinking of starting a business or trying to get your business going, the MESC provides you with an opportunity few areas in the entire country can compete with. The cost to participate is free and Jo Ann and Martha have created a network to nurture startup growth that is worth well more than any cash prize.”

Sharon and Michael Sabo’s Tricentum Technologies LLC, of Monroe County, earned $4,000 for third place in MESC 2019.

Sharon Sabo describes the experience of being a competitor: “One of the many positive things I’d like to stress are the individuals to start with, specifically Paul, Marti and Jo Ann. They were incredibly supportive. You could always approach them with any question, and they always helped you think. The business plan was a huge part of this. I’m not going to even call it confidence building because confidence building indicates that you don’t have confidence. I’m going to call it confidence discovery. Because discovering what you really desire and what really will drive you forward was what this competition provided. It was incredible. Since the point of last year, we’ve achieved our patents, we’ve achieved our tool and die, so we have our die created. And that was partly possible through these award funds.”

Tyler Mueth and his five brothers won the MESC 2018. Their hydroponics company, Vast Produce, has been keeping them very busy. Here is what they had to say about the opportunity: “The business plan competition was a truly rewarding experience. The opportunity to network and discuss our idea and business plan with industry experts and leaders of the community was invaluable. We continue to grow and learn with the help of the SBDC and leaders we met through the competition.”

“Although it was a lot of work to put together a thorough business plan, we are very thankful that we took the time to do so and participate in the Challenge,” said 2015 third-place finisher Tammy Rahm, co-owner Stubborn German Brewing Company. “It forced us to look at every detail of the business and plan its direction. Now that we’ve been open for a year, we’re in the process of reviewing the business plan and ensuring we’re on the right track.”

The MESC includes three rounds, beginning with a brief questionnaire and executive summary submittal that is open to all applications that meet the eligibility guidelines. Participants selected for the second round are invited to expand on their entrepreneurial concept by submitting a full business plan. These semifinalists are paired with business professionals who will mentor them through the competition and potentially beyond. The last round is the “final pitch” in front of a panel of business experts.

Visit the information page for details on the 2024 MESC or to initiate the application process. 

The initial entry deadline is Sunday, Aug. 11. Semi-finalists will be announced Friday, Aug, 23. Finalists will be notified on Tuesday, Oct. 22.

The Challenge culminates with an announcement of its four top place cash prize winners on Friday, Nov. 1 during the monthly Leadership Council in Southwestern Illinois meeting.

The Illinois SBDC Network is a service to the community supported, in part, by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and the SIUE School of Business.

SIUE operates two Small Business Development Centers and The International Trade Center.

All three Centers provide resources, information and support to entrepreneurs, and small business owners in the nine-county Metro East region of Jersey, Calhoun, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe and Randolph.

By aiding entrepreneurs and companies in defining their path to success, the SBDC positively impacts the Metro East by strengthening the business community, creating and retaining new jobs, and encouraging new investment. When appropriate, the SBDC strives to affiliate its ties to the region to support the goals and objectives of both the SIUE School of Business and the University at large.

To learn how the SBDC can help your small business, contact the Illinois SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE at 618-650-2929 or

To read more, go to The Intelligencer: Entrepreneurs Invited to 2024 Metro East Start-Up Challenge