Virtual Pitch Competition seeks to grow Michigan’s outdoor recreation sector

In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began closing restaurants, music venues, museums and other indoor recreation destinations, many Michiganders began heading outdoors. For Kent County residents, that often meant driving up north to fish, camp, bike, hike or relax in Mason, Lake, Oceana or Newaygo counties. Even with restrictions relaxing, outdoor recreation has remained more popular than ever before.

Folks at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), The Right Place and the Department of Natural Resources’ Michigan Outdoor Recreation Industry Office recognized this trend as an opportunity to spark Michigan’s outdoor recreation industry. To light that spark, they are hosting a Virtual Pitch Competition Oct. 27, 2021. Small outdoor recreation businesses in Lake, Mason, Newago and Oceana counties are invited to pitch their new or improved product or service ideas for a chance to win customized support services that will help them make their ideas a reality.

“Think about where you go to vacation,” says Julie Burrell, business development manager, Newaygo County, The Right Place. “That’s where we live. Building up our economy here is beneficial to the entire region.”

When creating the competition, the MEDC decided against cash prizes and instead is paying existing businesses to provide the winners support services to bring their concepts to reality. Winners will be able to choose among merchandising, prototyping, reputation management, GEO targeted marketing, photography and video or consulting services. These services will be packaged based on each of the awardee’s individual needs.

“This is a unique approach in the broad scope,” Burrell says. “These are not in-kind services. The state is able to pay the service providers and give the entrepreneur the opportunity. This collaboration benefits two separate sets of businesses.”

Other requirements to pitch a business include having under $750,000 in annual revenue, employing 10 employees or less, and meeting any applicable industry laws and standards. Preference may be given to those in geographically disadvantaged areas.

Brad Garmon, director of the Michigan Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, says that Michigan’s outdoor recreation businesses bring in around $10 billion annually. Expanding this sector could mean more business for other sectors as well. For example, it could lead to new product markets for manufacturers currently supplying the auto industry.

“If we can add [to] or grow this sector that is something that will contribute to the Michigan economy. What makes Michigan special is our strong Pure Michigan brand,” Garmon says. “Michigan is a beautiful state with diverse recreation opportunities — hunting, fishing, biking, hiking, ice climbing. A product or service that builds on these deepens that economy.”

Small businesses who want to make a pitch need to apply to the competition by Sept. 30. Selected applicants will be invited to the Virtual Pitch Competition Oct. 7. An Oct. 11 pitch preparation session will help them prepare for the Oct. 27 competition.

“My goal is diversification of our underlying economy,” Garmon says. “The exciting thing about the pitch competition, you don’t have any idea of what you might hear. It gives voice to folks who are sitting on an idea. I am hopeful that we’ll find a whole range of innovations.”

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