Carbondale media start-up wins $5,000 in Regions Bank Business Plan Competition | SIU

A Carbondale start-up business that wants make Southern Illinois into a production hub for online content, film, television, podcasts and other media is the winner of the 2021 Regions Bank Business Plan Competition.

Brand Advocacy Group, a tenant in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s business incubator, was announced as the winner of the $5,000 first prize during an innovation and entrepreneurship showcase event Thursday at SIU.

The business’ founder, Nathan Colombo, of Carbondale, said the honor gives credibility to the company.

“There have been a lot of people who question my motives in this work because they do not understand it,” Colombo said. “I think this is a step forward in helping those people understand it.”

Colombo said the business’ objective is to produce small-scale media projects for a variety of clients and causes while scaling facilities and technology into world-class facilities. The goal is to attract national and global production activities.

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He said the prize money will help to finance the next step of studio and production facility development.

“This work all along has been underpinned by this idea of reshaping Carbondale and the Southern Illinois economy through the media industry.”

A total of 16 entities submitted business plans for the competition, vying for $10,000 in business funding from Regions Bank through the SIU Foundation.

SIU’s Research Park, Business Incubator and the Illinois Small Business Development Center at SIU partnered to offer the competition. Submissions, which were reviewed by a panel of outside judges, ranged from technology-focused innovations to traditional business concepts and product-development ideas.

“The business plan competition brought a lot of new and interesting ideas,” said Greg Bouhl, entrepreneurship and business development director for the university’s Office of Economic and Regional Development. “We are all excited to see people take these ideas and business plans and start new ventures right here in Southern Illinois.”

Andrew Croxell received the $3,000 second-place price for his business plan for Hot Hut Outdoors, a camping tent designed to address condensation and moisture accumulation. 

The $2,000 prize was awarded to Yong Gao and Rong Jiang’s company, Energao, an enterprise developing energy storage technology which could help homeowners and communities build resilient and self-sufficient minigrid and microgrid energy systems.

Bouhl said all of the start-ups that entered the competition benefitted from their participation.

“There’s a lot of experience just going through writing a business plan and getting your ideas down on paper. Being able to do that and then to get feedback from judges is helpful in being able to launch businesses or to take their ventures to the next level,” he said.