Launch Pad: Shark Tank, Gaston County style

by Lauren Odomirok

GASTONIA – It’s time for local entrepreneurs to get fired up with the type of energy only the lure of competition can provide.

From left, Launch Pad Chairman Roy Goforth, Montcross Area Chamber Board Member Drew Jones, Montrcross Area Chamber President Ted Hall, Gaston Regional Chamber President John Kimbrell and Launch Pad Committee Member Marc Burns promote Launch Pad. (Courtesy of Merryman Cassels)

The Gaston Regional and Montcross Area chambers of commerce will host a business competition this year called Launch Pad in celebration of the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of Gaston County.

The contest will seek out those with the best ideas for how to start up a business within the county or make an existing one thrive.

“We believe entrepreneurs and small businesses are vital to this county, and the chamber is about job creation,” John Kimbrell, Gaston Regional Chamber of Commerce president, said. “People may have dreams for their businesses and wonder how to accomplish them, and that’s where Launch Pad comes in.”

The competition, which runs May through June 28, will encourage people to participate for a $12,500 first-place prize, $7,500 second-place prize and $3,500 third-place prize, along with benefiting from ongoing mentoring offered by business leaders in the community.

“We have a diversity of industries represented on the potential judges list,” Merryman Cassels, Launch Pad committee member, said. “After July 19, we’ll begin paring down applicants, and finalists will be paired with a mentor based on what they want to achieve.”

The Launch Pad committee is offering three application orientation sessions to help explain the contest and answer questions. One will be held at Gaston College May 14 and another at the Gaston Regional Chamber June 14.

On Sept. 10, several finalists will present their proposals to the Launch Pad committee to receive feedback and hone their oral presentation skills.

The contest culminates with judges selecting three winners Oct. 17, the 100th birthday of the Gaston Regional Chamber, during a live awards ceremony at the Gastonia Conference Center, 145 S. Marietta St.

Marc Burns, a Montcross Chamber board member, said he expects about 100 individuals to apply.

Existing businesses must be located in Gaston County and earn less than $100,000 in annual revenue. While there are no specific categories, businesses should demonstrate the ability to “adapt over time to changing conditions, become income-generating, realistic, innovative and creative.”

College students are invited to apply as long as they maintain part-time residency in the county. To that end, Launch Pad also solicited the help of Belmont Abbey College and Gaston College to find ways to draw in young applicants.

“We approached Belmont Abbey College professor Hugh Sales, who teaches entrepreneurship,” Burns said. “We wanted to have someone with an outside perspective to look at our application and get students to look at it.”

Alex Mullineaux, another Montcross board member, said one purpose of the competition is to create an incentive for graduates to stay in the area after receiving their diplomas.

Kimbrell added he hopes this becomes an annual competition and that it will provide real capital to get businesses off the ground.

Want to compete?

Visit and click on the Launch Pad logo to download an application.

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