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franklin county times

Launchpad event gives $100K to entrepreneurs

Ashley Morrow

After an intensive weeks-long challenge, five entrepreneurs each received a share of $100K to further their innovative businesses.

One was Ashley Morrow, daughter of Dr. Keith and Lisha Morrow, who will entered the competition with her product Alchemy.

“It was exciting,” said Morrow, who first launched Alchemy – a jewelry sealant spray that protects skin from discoloration and irritation and protects jewelry from tarnishing – in 2015. “The idea of getting funding that did not include an investor or interest fees was really appealing … I’m also extremely competitive and enjoy speaking in front of crowds.”

The Shoals Alabama Launchpad Competition began with multiple applicants who, through initial and subsequent stages of competition, were whittled down to five finalists. In addition to Alchemy, businesses represented in the finals were: LUXE-BRAND, luxury leather shoelaces; nSide, “the world’s first full collaborative, building interior and campus visualization solution;” Southern Swaddle, infant products designed to lower the infant mortality rate; and Sycamore Physician Contracting, an open marketplace for physicians and contract groups.

Morrow, who grew up in Russellville, said she decided to enter the competition at a time when she was considering entering the state level competition. The Shoals Launchpad is a first-of-its-kind regional competition that was suggested by people at the state level Alabama Launchpad, which is in its 11th year.

“We felt it was a great next step for the programs we already had in place,” explained Caitlin Holland, vice president of investor relations and public policy for the Shoals Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the challenge in partnership with the University of North Alabama College of Business and the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center, with supporting grant funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission. “It went great. We felt it couldn’t have gone any better.”

The competition began in September.

“It’s been a lot of work and a long time. This is not a get-money-for-your-business-quick scheme at all,” Morrow said.

Throughout the different phases of the competition, participants were challenged to present budgets and business plans, financial projects and more through a rigorous process. Holland said now is the perfect time to be encouraging and creating avenues for success for innovators and entrepreneurs.

“Our economy is really shifting nationwide and worldwide,” Holland said. “We’re trying to get these creative minds and innovative thinkers into a pipeline where we can guide them toward future success.”

Morrow said dealing with the judges throughout the competition gave her value feedback, both commendations as well as criticisms, of her product and business model. “It was a lot of nights staying up at 2 o’clock in the morning and trying to make that business plan just right,” she said. She was particularly proud of positive response from the Foresight Science & Technology report, which analyzed and reported on each of the competitor’s businesses as part of the challenge.

“Alchemy received the highest award they give out. I got a full-go green light,” Morrow said.

In the final analysis, each of the five finalists were funded at some level, each receiving a portion of the $100K.

Morrow received $20K. She said she looks forward to continuing to grow and promote her product, which is already in 400 retail stores and online stores. She is in talks with a television shopping network as well and hopes to focus on partnering with online media guides to get Alchemy onto lists like gift guides. “People engage with those brands and trust those brands to bring their attention to cool things,” she said.

In order to receive prize money, winning teams had to commit to headquarter their businesses in the Shoals area for a minimum of five years.

Other sponsors for Shoals Alabama Launchpad were the Anderson Family Foundation, Bank Independent, Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, Rep. Marcel Black and Sen. Larry Stutts.