Pitch Competition invites community to bring fresh ideas for downtown spaces

The Middle Michigan Development Corporation (MMDC) is hosting the first-ever Downtown Pitch Competition in Mt. Pleasant this upcoming fall. The competition aims to bring fresh, new ideas to the downtown area and to support existing current businesses in the district. 

Vice President at MMDC Kati Mora says this competition is something she’s wanted to introduce to the community for a while. Mt. Pleasant is a Redevelopment-Ready Certified community, a program made possible by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The idea is a kind of expansion on the Match on Main program. 

“What I liked about that program is that it allowed for businesses to dream big and think about not only how some additional funding might be able to help their business grow, but also how to enhance the vibrancy of the downtown space that they happen to be in,” Mora says. 

Mora says the success of that program has really put back into both the Mt. Pleasant and Harrison communities and led to the creation of this competition.

“We were trying to come up with a way to allow more businesses to have that type of support and funding, so we pulled together other organizations across the Mt. Pleasant area and said, ‘What can we do locally that would be somewhat similar to help support the vibrancy of our businesses downtown, but also help the vibrancy of our downtown overall,’” she says. 

“We ended up coming up with the Downtown Pitch Competition, and were able to put aside some funding for both the Business Vibrancy award and Community Vibrancy award, as a way to get more community members involved and to bring some fresh ideas to the table.”

In total, 13 applications have been turned in for the two competition categories: the Business Vibrancy and the Community Vibrancy award. Mora says the guidelines for the $5,000 Community Vibrancy award were kept pretty open-ended, inviting the public to bring forward fresh ideas. Potential ideas include public amenities like bike racks, flower boxes, public art installations, and pop-up retail experiences. 
“My hope is that as we start to get individuals thinking about the community in this way, we’ll be able to think through and dream up some different ideas that might enhance what the downtown already has to offer, and encourage people to take even more ownership in what’s available to do in our downtown,” Mora says.

For the $10,000 Business Vibrancy award, the attention was focused on current business owners. Funds can be used for technical assistance, interior building renovations, permanent or semi-permanent activation for outdoor space, COVID-19 recovery efforts, and general marketing/technology. Mora says she hopes to see existing shops and retailers share their big picture, bucket list goals and enable them to move forward. “This really gives an additional opportunity to help some of those come to life,” she says. 

Between now and the public pitch competition, organizers will be reviewing pitch deck drafts and working with businesses to help perfect their presentations. They’re also connecting businesses and entrepreneurs with local resources to help fund their ideas and enable them to flourish in the community. 

During the public pitch event on November 9 at the Broadway Theater, the audience will see the top pitches presented in real-time, and be able to vote for the $1,000 People’s Choice Award. The winners of the event will have one year from that date to make their project a reality. 

Mora says she hopes this program can provide additional funding to help businesses and get more people talking about the downtown area.

 “I’m also really hoping that this event helps to get people talking about our downtown community in a positive way, and gets people to feel like they have some ownership in our downtown and can say ‘Hey, I helped make that idea happen because I went to this downtown pitch competition and voted for this idea.’”

Leading up to the competition, MMDC and partnering organizations (Meet Mt. Pleasant, Lake Trust, Michigan SBDC, Central Michigan University Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship, and Mid Michigan College) will be posting details of participating pitches on social media and highlighting ideas that are slated to be presented.

Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at spohn9@gmail.com.