It started with 86 ideas and now it’s down to just five. Bucks County Community College, which has been incubating ideas and launching careers for more than 50 years, is down to the finalists in its first-ever Start Me Up Challenge, as aspiring entrepreneurs vie for a chance to receive funding assistance and professional mentoring for an idea, concept or business.

The contest, launched in January, is similar to the TV show Shark Tank, according to Tracy Timby, Dean of Business Studies at the public, two-year college.

“Venture capitalists from Bucks County will invest their own time, money and resources in their favorite concepts,” said Timby. “Local investors will be on hand to hear pitches and negotiate investment funds and mentoring, with up to $100,000 available to the selected concepts.”

The exciting finals take place on April 27 at the college’s Lower Bucks Campus in Bristol. In the coming weeks, BH TV will visit some of those talented budding entrepreneurs as they prepare for their big pitch.

“The college is very excited about the Start Me Up challenge,” said Stephanie Shanblatt, Bucks County Community College president. “It builds upon our efforts to infuse an entrepreneurial mindset throughout the college that provides a strong foundation for student success.”

The Start Me Up Challenge is one of several steps the Business Studies Department is taking to increase its educational outreach to those who’d like to start their own business, Timby noted. Other opportunities include an Introduction to Entrepreneurship three-credit course; a dedicated “entrepreneur space” lab at the Lower Bucks Campus; a Virtual Incubator Network, an online collaboration space connecting experienced entrepreneurs, faculty, alumni, and community mentors; and networking opportunities for students and local business leaders.

The local investors who will hear the final pitches on April 27 are:

Bill Borchert Jr.: Bill has been in the financial services and community banking industries for almost 30 years.  He has been a business-owner and industry leader for over 25 years. Borchert founded IFS Inc. (financial planning for business owners) in 1985 and created BFS Group (executive and director benefit plans and financing strategies) in 1998.  He has earned national recognition in the community and regional bank markets as a leader, speaker, and author on executive and director supplemental benefits and BOLI (bank-owned life insurance) financing strategies.  Borchert is a regular speaker at business and sales conferences on topics such as “Thinking Big” and sales performance.

Gene Epstein: Gene proved his business savvy at an early age when he opened a candy store with his mom at the age of 15 to help save their North Philadelphia home. True to his personal motto, “Never found a downside to working hard,” Epstein became a successful car dealer and real estate investor, and a champion of many charitable causes in education, unemployment and healthcare. Today, Epstein runs his family foundation with his wife Marlene and looks forward to supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs through the Start Me Up Challenge.

Brett Kane: Brett has extensive experience in business management, technology, human resources, sales and real estate. He held management positions at an internet infrastructure start-up and a high-tech engineering and manufacturing company, and currently manages his own real estate investments. Kane’s education includes technology, psychology, business management, and HR, studying at Baruch College of Business in Manhattan, Temple University, and other educational institutions. Kane is looking to invest in new opportunities through the Start Me Up Challenge.

Ron Walker and Russ Coulon:  In 2003, Ron and Russ took a $5,000 investment and turned it into a $500,000 internet business working just 10 hours a week. After being diagnosed with melanoma, Walker realized there was a need for quality sun-protection umbrellas for those who had melanoma or patients receiving chemotherapy. Walker and Coulon sell their patented brand of UV-Blocker umbrellas on Amazon and through the UV-Blocker website. Walker’s full-time job is President of Allied Electronics. Inc., and Coulon is the IT manager at Allied. Both bring expertise in business and internet marketing, as well as their manufacturing and purchasing contacts in China to the Start Me Up Challenge.

After combing through 70+ initial entries, a committee consisting of college business professors and local business people whittled the pool down to 32 in the second round, 15 in the third round, and then down to five contestants, who will make their final pitches directly to the investors on April 27. While no sharks will be in the tank, it surely will be a nail-biting contest to see which ideas win the Start Me Up Challenge.



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