Seedlings

Whether you’re launching a start-up venture or expanding operations, developing and writing a business plan may be among the most difficult parts of the process. Countless weeks and months go into the research, benchmarking, number-crunching and eventual penning of the plan, all of which has one goal in mind — a successful company.

Last year, the Council of Smaller Enterprises conducted a business plan competition designed to spark entrepreneurship across Northeast Ohio. The COSE Business Plan Challenge, formerly VentureQuest 2002, was sponsored by numerous organizations, including SBN Magazine.

More than 250 business plans were submitted. Five category winners and one Best of Show winner were determined through two rounds of judging by panels of experts, COSE volunteers and business leaders. Category winners received $10,000 and a prize package that includes numerous business-related services and support. The Best of Show winner received a more extensive package, including $50,000.

Over the next year, SBN will follow the monthly progress of these six companies. We’ll explore their plans, challenges, hurdles, products and services as they march toward business success. Here is a snapshot of each business.

Best of Show: Home Team Marketing

Founded in April 2001 by brothers Peter, Regan and Jake Fitzpatrick and Patrick Spear, the company takes sport sponsorships and applies the concept to high school athletics. Based in Cleveland Heights, Home Team Marketing creates a network of Ohio high schools and gains the right to sell each school’s existing sports-media elements, such as stadium and arena signage and print space in game programs.

The company then sells marketing opportunities to larger clients. More than 196 Ohio high schools are part of Home Team’s growing network.

Female Business Enterprise: Tea Jones

Sarah Wilson-Jones knows a thing or two about the beverage business. As owner of Phoenix Coffee and tea party catering service Charlotte & Veronica’s Tea Co., Jones plans to translate that experience into a Cleveland Heights-based national chain of tea cafes under the name Tea Jones.

Under 30: CyberDine Systems

Mike Sabat and Craig Zucker have developed a new way to order food and beverages at restaurants using a self-service product for ordering and delivery. CyberDine’s first development, a software program, provides computerized menus at the table of restaurants that allow customers to place orders and send them to the kitchen.

The Beachwood duo hopes to test market the product at the Winking Lizard and is targeting casual dining chains such as T.G.I. Fridays as future clientele.

Growth: Software Answers

Paul Chaffee, president of Software Answers, has been providing IT training and consulting services in Akron since 1994. The company has completed development of its first product, a software program for K-12 schools designed to integrate all systems — attendance, grading, lesson plans, homework assignments — into one system.

More than 30 school districts have signed up to use the product beginning next September.

Minority Business Enterprise: Mid-America Consulting Group Inc.

Andrew J. Banks has been successful with Beachwood-based Mid-America Consulting Group Inc. and hopes to expand that success through the launch of Provider Gateway, an Internet-based case management tool that provides county governments with a way to monitor, track costs and evaluate individuals who receive federal aid.

Banks’ system allows the government and registered providers access to data and the ability to update records in real time and coordinate services with other agencies.

Start-up: InfoGraphix LLC

Robert McGee Sr. plans to launch InfoGraphix, a Cleveland-based firm that will establish a database of information for commercial appraisers and real estate professionals that extends beyond the basic records and parcel and street maps that are currently available from the county auditor or recorder. McGee says his solution will allow real estate professionals to produce customizable reports and improve the quality of evaluations used in appraising real estate.

How will these business fare? For more information on the progress of these honorees, watch the pages of SBN. How to reach: COSE, (216) 621-3300

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