Danville to host poetry slam-style event for aspiring entrepreneurs

Danville’s River District Association is hosting its third Start-Up Slam this week, an event modeled after a poetry slam where participants share their business ideas for the chance at a cash prize.

The event will be held Feb. 23 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the River District Event Center on Ridge Street in Danville.

The RDA has several programs to help encourage local entrepreneurship, and Start-Up Slam is perhaps the most casual and easiest to participate in. There are no business plans required, and anyone over the age of 5 can share their idea.

The event is $10 to attend — cash upon entry — and at the end of the event, attendees vote on their favorite business idea out of presenters. Up to 15 presenters are allowed, and the winner gets all the money collected at the door.

As of Feb. 17, there are 40 people registered to attend.

The RDA doesn’t care what the prize money is used for, said executive director Schwartz. It doesn’t have to go toward actually starting a business.

“We just wanted to have some way to incentivize sharing good ideas,” she said. “Why not have the chance to earn a little bit of money for it?”

Participants who want to share their idea will write their name down when they arrive, and up to 15 names will be drawn randomly to present.

“If more than 15 people put their name in, not all may be able to present,” according to a Feb. 20 release from the RDA. Each presentation is limited to 3 minutes.

Schwartz said that Start-Up Slam is meant to encourage Danvillians to share their ideas in a low-stakes environment where they can also network with other community members.

“Not everybody wants to pitch in a really formal competition, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a wonderful idea,” she said.

Scwartz said she first got the inspiration for Start-Up Slam during a conference for Main Street organizations about seven years ago. There, she learned about Detroit SOUP, an organization that works to promote community-based development in Detroit, which hosts a similar event.

At the time, Schwartz said she was working in a community where this sort of event wasn’t applicable. But when she came to Danville to work with the RDA in 2019, she still had the idea in the back of her mind, she said.

However, other RDA entrepreneurship programs came to fruition first.

The RDA began hosting Dream Launch, a more formal entrepreneurship program, in 2019. It’s a free program that teaches participants skills and information that business owners need in a 6-week bootcamp-style workshop.

Since the start of the program, 400 individuals have participated.

Entrepreneurs or existing businesses who complete all of the Dream Launch bootcamp sessions and want to open brick-and-mortar locations in the River District can apply to compete in the RDA Ignite Business Pitch Competition, where they could win up to $50,000 in awards and incentives.

“The Dream Launch program has opened or expanded 18 businesses in the River District, just directly from pitch participants,” Schwartz said. “And we’ve had other pitch participants that we weren’t able to give funding to, and they opened anyway.”

The Start-Up Slam program is a bit newer than Dream Launch and Ignite, first held less than a year ago during Summer 2022. There was a second Start-Up Slam in September, and this week’s will be the third.

The first winner of Start-Up Slam used the prize money to buy equipment for a business that he’s working to launch, Schwartz said. A youth group won the second Start-Up Slam and used the money for their organization, she said.

One of the goals of the event is to create a space for aspiring entrepreneurs to meet one another and feel the support of the community.

“An issue you come across with people who want to start businesses or be an entrepreneur is it can be a very, very lonely way to go,” Schwartz said. “Having support from other people who know what you’re going through and have been through it themselves is essential.”

Start-Up Slam, at its heart, is a low-cost way to connect with people and share ideas, she said.

“I would love to see people come just because it sounds interesting and fun and they want to socialize and give their $10 to help someone in the community,” Schwartz said. “We’re just trying to till the soil and create a fertile ground where entrepreneurship can grow.”