"Dream Big, Grow Here Cedar Valley" jump-starts local business - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

"Dream Big, Grow Here Cedar Valley" jump-starts local business

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

Thousands of dollars, and world-wide exposure, is up for grabs in the 2012 "Dream Big, Grow Here Cedar Valley" contest.

The program aims to foster local entrepreneurs and keep young families in the community. Anyone who has a great idea and a solid plan for a small business is able to enter the contest. It could be an innovative tech company or someone with a great barbeque sauce.

The 2011 winner wanted to open an indoor laser tag site. He said the contest launched him into a full-time business owner.

Mark Mayfield's journey towards small business ownership started a few years ago, while traveling between missions with the Army National Guard.

"I love laser tag. It was a great way to do something as a family that we all love together," said Mayfield.

Initially, he started small, a mobile unit in the back of his truck.

"I could bring a party to a backyard or a fair," he said.

In 2011, a friend with the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber (GVCA&C) turned him on to a contest.

"She said, hey you're a new business. This might be a good idea for you. Just check it out," he recalled.

"Dream Big, Grow Here Cedar Valley" offers a unique opportunity for one local business. Entrepreneurs explain their plan, the community votes, and the winner receives a, no-strings-attached, $5,000 grant.

"To get the chance to get a $5,000 inducement to get your business off the ground, whether its from your garage or out of your basement, is a big deal," said Lisa Rivera Skubel, the Director of Marketing for the GCVA&C.

Mayfield won -- with more than 3,500 votes.

"It really helped us grow and get what we needed to take the next step," said Mayfield.

That next step was more equipment, and a large, permanent site for the courses. But more importantly, the contest jump-started a brighter future for this husband and father of three.

"I would not be here, be able to spend the time with my family. I'd be working a 4:00PM - 2:00AM job and doing mobile events on the weekends, or trying to," he explained. "It gives me a chance to be with these guys, and to love life more and do what I want to do, what I love."

Mayfield said the contest offered an additional benefit he didn't expect when he signed up -- the exposure he received through the voting process. 12,207 people from all fifty states, and more than thirty countries, voted in the 2011 "Dream Big, Grow Here Cedar Valley" contest. He also made important contacts with other small business owners.

This year, the community will vote online for the top five finalists from Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Butler, Chickasaw, Grundy, and Tama counties. Those five will pitch their plan to a panel of business experts, who will ultimately choose the local winner. He or she goes onto the statewide contest, where another $10,000 is at stake.

The deadline for entering is September 18, 2012. Voting runs September 21-October 5, 2012. A local winner will be chosen at the Cedar Valley Innovation Day on October 18, 2012.  The statewide pitch-off will be in Spring 2013.

Click here to learn more about the "Dream Big, Grow Here Cedar Valley" contest.

Check out Mayfield's laser tag business here.

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