'Run the Gauntlet' challenge is launched

ENTREPRENEURS are being invited to pitch their business proposition as part of a major competition offering a share of a £1million investment fund to businesses in the east of England.

ENTREPRENEURS are being invited to pitch their business proposition as part of a major competition offering a share of a £1million investment fund.

The East of England Development Agency's 'running the gauntlet' 2006 competition, launched yesterday , is offering an investment fund from CREATE, a leading investor in East of England businesses.

Last year, three companies received a share of £1million and many entrants learned valuable lessons about how to grow a business and secure investment funding.

The contest is based around The Gauntlet, a web-based investment readiness tool which has been developed by Library House and the London School of Economics.

It works like a virtual investor putting companies through their paces by testing them against questions that investors would typically ask.

It also gives users practical feedback on the potential of their ideas and the strengths and weaknesses of their business proposition, making it an integral part of the business development process before a critical first meeting with an investor.

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This year, competition organisers say there will be a much more comprehensive learning curve, with thousands of pounds worth of free advice and services, including access to The Gauntlet, which would normally cost £299.

Those taking part will get access to a dedicated 'running the gauntlet' helpdesk, staffed by an experienced business support team from Business Link.

There are also £250,000 worth of services available from competition sponsors Bailey Fisher-Executive Search, Grant Thornton, HSBC, Mudhut Communications, Scientific Generics, Taylor Vintners and The Commercialisation Company.

These will be delivered via a combination of one-to-one clinics, and first-come, first-served master classes for all entrants with additional in-kind services for short-listed and winning companies.

Those registering for the competition before June 4 could win one of five places worth £1,000 each on the prestigious Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning summer school - an intensive, one-week training programme which gives aspiring entrepreneurs and corporate innovators a chance to trial and prepare business ideas for the commercial environment.

The competition deadline is September 10. A shortlist of 50 companies will be chosen to pitch to a panel of investors, chaired jointly by Doug Richard of Library House and BBC2's Dragon's Den, and Boyd Mulvey, chief executive of CREATE.

Ten of the 50 will be chosen to pursue discussions with CREATE and other investors subject to interest, and the winners will be announced at EEDA's business event on November 14.

Mr Richard of Library House said that generally speaking, it was not until entrepreneurs had presented to investors and been knocked back that they understood where they had gone wrong, and it was often too late.

“The Gauntlet aims to change that by offering entrepreneurs the chance to wise up before they even make the approaches. It provides a confidential, critical and credible insight into what the company needs to do to position itself as a viable investment opportunity,” he said.

“Many users have described it as an invaluable reality check.”

Mr Mulvey said that CREATE saw a huge number of businesses looking for funding, and the majority were “just not ready, or haven't understood the way investment funding works”.

“Many businesses area based around innovative ideas but lack the right team, market knowledge or structure - for the right business, we will take a hands-on role and work with them if we see potential,” he said.

EEDA chairman Richard Ellis described the competition as “an unrivalled learning opportunity” for entrepreneurs.

“We recognise that investment funding is not the only way to grow a business, but we need to improve the chances of success for those who opt for this route,” he said.

“This year's competition has created quite a buzz and we look forward to engaging with yet more promising businesses in the region.”

To enter, go to www.runningthegauntlet.com.