DOVER — A dozen or so commercial properties are available for rent or sale, prompting the creation of the Dover Launch business plan competition.
“We have some empty spaces here in Dover and we tried to think of a number of ways to fill them,” said Eric Durocher, economic development director for the town.
The winner of a $20,000 jackpot can be a startup or business looking to expand. Applications will be accepted until Sept. 17.
Five semi-finalists will be selected for the second round. They’ll receive a mentor/coach and business plan counseling.
They’ll have until Oct. 22 to submit their final business plan. Three finalists will be selected by Oct. 27 to make presentations to a judges panel in a public forum in November.
The panel is anticipated to include at least one Select Board member, a business owner, a resident and someone from a financial institution. An idea jam on Aug. 24, time and location to be announced, is meant to get input from stakeholders — residents, second-home owners and business owners — on what they want to see in Dover.
Once the semi-finalists are determined, Durocher expects to take them around town to show them available spaces.
A similar contest in Wilmington called Make It On Main Street resulted in two existing businesses being able to “set their roots and expand,” Durocher said. 802 Fitness and Therapy and Beurremont Bakery won the 2018 competition put on by the downtown organization Wilmington Works, which inspired Dover.
“They were gracious enough to share their ins and outs with us, and what worked and didn’t,” Durocher said. Without that, “it would have been harder to get off the ground.”
Business plan contests are happening all over the United States all the time, Durocher said. Scoring for the Dover competition favors businesses that don’t duplicate a service or good already offered in town.
“We are pushing for new businesses but I want everybody to apply,” Durocher said. “I don’t need another pizza place. I don’t need another ski shop.”
Durocher said he wants to see a business that will complement existing ones.
The contest is coming out in conjunction of with a loan program for businesses, where the town is partnering with Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. Durocher envisions the finalists and semifinalists getting to a point in planning where they will be well suited to take advantage of business loans from the town ranging anywhere from $2,500 to $50,000.
“We’re hoping to see some really great businesses come out of it,” he said.
BDCC will match 10 percent of the loan in technical assistance such as providing help with setting up online sales. The town will match 10 percent in the form of an interest rate buy-down on the loan for the first 12 months to help businesses get going and reduce the burden of the loan, Durocher said.
He noted how the details on the loan project were finalized just before the announcement of the business plan competition and information about both can be found on discoverdover.com, and Facebook and Instagram pages for the town.
“We’re super excited about it,” he said.
Having already spoken with a number of people interested in the contest, he said he expects a good turnout.