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Innovation Awards Highlight New Companies With Prizes & Investment

Innovation Coast

The first-ever Innovation Awards will take place November 6-7, at the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front. This is the largest business plan competition in Florida, giving participants the opportunity to compete for more than $215,000 in cash and prizes and make a pitch for investment dollars.

The Innovation Awards are presented by Innovation Coast, Space Florida, and the Florida Small Business Development Center Network.  The competition is expected to be fierce, with wide range of businesses from across the country pitching their up-and-coming ventures.

“More important than the prize money is really the opportunity to showcase these 20 companies and provide opportunity for them to have equity and angel investors in the community support them and to develop Northwest Florida as more of a technology host to area companies,” said Julie Sheppard, Vice Chair of Innovation Coast.

The process actually began with a call for entries from April to June. There were 26 applicants. In July, the list was narrowed to 10 top presenting companies that are eligible for the prize money, with an additional 10 that will be able to showcase their company business plan to investors.

The Innovation Awards will begin on Thursday, November 6, with a reception where the 20 participating companies each will be given a chance to make information presentations. On Friday, November 7, the 10 finalists will make a 20 minute presentation before a live audience and panel of judges.

During a keynote speech by invited guest Lars Perkins, former Google Director of Project Management, the judges will go into deliberations. The winners will be announced afterward.

First place will win $100,000, with a prize of $50,000 for second place. The third place winner will receive a year’s worth of space in the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce incubator program, a prize equal to $5,000.

Additionally, three of the 20 companies will be selected to receive a “Microsoft Bizspark Plus” subscription, a $60,000 value in Microsoft software and Azure services.

The announcement of the winners will culminate months of work behind the scenes for the 20 companies that were chosen for the Innovation Awards. According to Sheppard, those companies over the summer and fall have worked with specialists from SBDC to strengthen their business plan, marketing, presentation, and financials. “So, we’re really excited to see where the companies look like now over when they applied,” she said.

Organizers have focused the competition on technology and knowledge-based companies such as information technology, aerospace, robotics, and health care. Within the top 10, there are medical technologies, environmental technologies, software technologies, community and accounting technologies, and some 3-D technologies. Most are based in Florida, with some from the Pensacola Bay Area.

This competition fits perfectly with the mission of Innovation Coast, which was started by a group of local technology companies to promote the idea that Northwest Florida is a great place for technology and knowledge-based companies, entrepreneurs, and investors to locate.

The Innovation Awards are a first for Innovation Coast, and represent the third such competition for Space Florida.

The event is different from Startup Weekend in that it focuses on companies that companies that are more advanced, already established and looking to expand.

For more information on the participating companies, sponsors, and tickets can be found on the Innovation Coast web site.

The presentation portion of the competition on Friday, Nov. 7 will be webcast at wuwf.org.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.