More than just a jar

Inventors and innovators, take note: Blue Ridge Food Ventures is looking for a new idea, and they're offering cash to ensure the success of their search. The contest, dubbed The Big Tasty, looks for a food product or service fresh from the noggin of a North Carolina entrepreneur.

The winner will receive $2,500 in prize money, 100 free hours in the Blue Ridge Food Ventures test kitchen and manufacturing facility in Candler, and a free course at Mountain BizWorks. Two runners-up will receive $1,000 and 50 hours in the test kitchen.

“We're not just looking for a product in a jar,” says Mary Lou Surgi, executive director of Blue Ridge Food Ventures. “We're looking for a new way of creating a service or a product that people need.”

She says that while a creative idea is essential to the success of the applicants, a polished business plan is not. “We need something to excite us,” she says. “We're not expecting to have the full-blown business thrown out in front of us.”

While the application must make a good first impression with the judges, it's just the beginning of the process to determine the winner. After the Oct. 15 deadline, a panel of judges will choose semifinalists to meet with marketing, packaging and business professionals to help them refine their concept. In March, using what they've learned, the semifinalists will present their ideas to the judges, who will announce the winners in April.

While the contest will require diligence from the semifinalists, it's also designed to be fun. “I was thinking of American Idol, the TV show, and I was thinking instead of the next American Idol, we were going to be the next American pickle,” Surgi says. “That's [how] the idea kind of generated.

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