Woodstock competition offers $30,000 prize for best business idea

Cliff Johnson, left, and Larry Niles, two of Woodstock’s original organizers, look forward to promoting a new business. Photo by Ethan Weinstein/VTDigger

WOODSTOCK – May the best business win.

With $30,000 in seed money, three Woodstock business leaders have helped create Startup Woodstock, a pitch competition that will help start new businesses.

“The idea is, the closer the company is to solving some very important needs in the community, that’s a big plus,” said Cliff Johnson, one of the organizers and judges of Startup Woodstock.

Johnson and his family moved from Atlanta to Woodstock during the pandemic. More than ten years ago, while working in Portland, Oregon, he founded Vacasa, an international vacation rental management company, which he left in 2018.

Johnson is organizing the Woodstock tournament with Jon Spector and Larry Niles, both members of the Economic Development Commission, which focuses on issues such as housing, child care and urban renewal. The commission provided $10,000 for the competition, with another $20,000 from private donors.

“We really want people to come here,” Niles said. “We’re going to do everything we can to address some of these obvious problems, or barriers, to opening a business.”

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High rents in the downtown area contribute to that barrier, Niles said, and the perception that Woodstock has a large industrial complex is difficult for buyers to navigate. While the former may be true, he dismissed the latter, saying that almost all the businessmen surveyed by the company said they had a positive experience with local government.

Niles also questions the idea that Woodstock only caters to certain customers.

He said: “I always think that we are a rich country, because we are a lot of traders and a lot of people have lived here all their lives.”

With that in mind, Niles and Johnson said Startup Woodstock hopes to cast a wider net in attracting potential applicants for prize money. Those whose ideas may be in their infancy are invited to apply. So are service-based businesses such as electricity, landscaping and childcare facilities.

“A $30,000 donation can help someone start a new child care business with ease,” Johnson said.

This competitive process requires businesses to fill unmet needs in the community and, hopefully, create living wage jobs or sustainable owner-operated businesses.

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If successful, Johnson said he hopes the competition will create “a culture of entrepreneurship and (allow) people to create their own future.”

Johnson thinks that kind of culture can grow at Woodstock. He moved to Vermont to raise his family, enjoying the Woodstock school system, close-knit community and access to the outdoors. He works in the city, and sees the Windsor County resort as a draw for suburban workers like him.

For a town of only about 3,000 people, Woodstock invests a lot in economic development. Since 2016, the Community Economic Development Commission has awarded more than $1 million in grants to support programs, physical infrastructure, marketing and other initiatives.

This year, the city government created a program that pays landlords to convert short-term rentals into long-term rentals. The project aims to ease the housing shortage in the city, which is exacerbated by the city’s appeal to tourists. Landlords receive $3,000 if they agree to a one-year lease with a landlord, and $7,000 for a two-year lease.

Johnson acknowledged that “concerns are coming when the community is getting more vacation rentals coming in,” including through Vacasa, adding that short-term rentals can be “a small contributor to housing affordability.”

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Still, he believes vacation rentals can be “a good part of most communities” when they are licensed, taxed and comply with local laws.

Although it’s a new concept, Startup Woodstock can grow if it’s successful, according to organizers. Applicants can apply till Dec. 1, while a group of judges who will be announced will narrow down the possibilities to a group of finalists on December 15. The finalists will present their ideas in February, and the winner will be chosen soon. . later.

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