Topeka businessmen who joined with The Topeka Capital-Journal for an entrepreneurship competition promoting the city and its downtown will announce 20 finalists after the Aug. 31 application deadline.
That is when contestants will really need to buckle down.
“We’ll communicate with them directly and ask for more detail at that point, which will include a business plan,” said Brent Boles, managing partner of Schendel Lawn &Landscape and one of the men behind the initiative.
Boles said the Top Tank panel will give contestants a list of things it needs from them, with a deadline a week or two before finalists present their business proposals to the panel in November. That will likely mean finalists will have two months to ensure they have a solid understanding of the business they are proposing.
Top Tank’s winner will receive a $100,000 investment to start their downtown business and will be connected with local resources to help it succeed.
Many resources are already available in Topeka for people who may be considering making a pitch to the Top Tank investors. Washburn University’s Small Business Development Center and GO Topeka, both located downtown, offer help for start-ups and can connect people with additional resources.
Glenda Washington, vice president of entrepreneurial and minority business development at GO Topeka, said the economic development agency and the Small Business Development Center, its next-door neighbor, offer training classes to help entrepreneurs write their business plans.
“Between the two of us, we feel like we are a safety net for entrepreneurs,” she said.
GO Topeka offers a training program for entrepreneurs, called FastTrac, twice a year. Classes meet for three hours on Tuesday evenings for six weeks. Participants walk through real-life scenarios involving aspects of owning a business, Washington said, and at the end they write either a one-page business plan or, if they are seeking funding, a full-blown business plan.
This fall’s FastTrac program begins Aug. 15 and costs $55, according to GO Topeka’s website.
Karl Klein, regional director of the Small Business Development Center, said helping people create business plans is one of the center’s primary functions.
In conjunction with Topeka SCORE, the center offers a free “How to Start a Business” seminar on the first Wednesday of each month at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. Participants learn basic steps to starting a business and walk through the basic steps of creating a business plan and making financial projections, he said.
Klein said financial projections — accurate estimates of what sales and expenses will be — are the most difficult part of creating a business plan. Consultants at the Small Business Development Center have access to resources that give historical data that can help entrepreneurs estimate such expenses as rent, administrative costs and payroll, he said.
Both GO Topeka and the Small Business Development Center offer one-on-one counseling for entrepreneurs, Washington said.
“They can sit with me and talk through the whole concept of, ‘I want to start this business, what do I do, what are the steps,’ those kinds of things,” she said.
Many people seeking help from the Small Business Development Center want to find out about the financial feasibility of their business idea or want market demographics or similar information, Klein said.
One of the biggest requests the center receives is for access to capital or financial resources, Klein said. That is where the center comes into play as a conduit to resources in the region, he said. A consultant might point someone toward resources including private capital, gap financing or a private lender.
Washington said GO Topeka can also assist with financing through its loan program, the Topeka and Shawnee County First Opportunity Fund, or through the Topeka/Shawnee County Small Business Incentive.
Boles said business plans prepared for the Top Tank contest don’t necessarily need to be extensive but should thoroughly address how the idea will generate money, how it will be unique and different in the marketplace and its profitability. A basic business plan would be sufficient if it addresses all of the investors’ questions, he said.
“I don’t think we’re going to tell people how extensive we want it,” Boles said. “I think that’s part of us trying to figure out how well they understand the business they’re proposing, as well as how well they understand business in general.”
Contact reporter Samantha Foster at (785) 295-1186 or @samfoster_ks on Twitter.