Vancouver Downtown Association helps future business take off from the launchpad

New business competition will supply winning applicant with $40,000

VANCOUVER — In 2020, there will be a new business destination joining the growing community of downtown Vancouver if the Vancouver Downtown Association (VDA) has anything to say about it.

In fact, they do. They have $40,000 to say about it.

Downtown Vancouver as seen heading westbound on West 6th Street last winter. Photo by Jacob Granneman
Downtown Vancouver as seen heading westbound on West 6th Street last winter. Photo by Bailey Granneman

The Downtown Vancouver Launchpad competition, hosted by the nonprofit VDA, is now accepting applications from members of the regional community who have new and exciting business ideas. The winner will receive all the resources needed to open the next place to be in the Couve.

“It’s like a nonprofit doing Shark Tank,” said VDA Executive Director Michael Walker. “What’s the gist of your business concept? And then they fill that out, it’s kind of like the initial litmus test and then from there, we’ll be asking for more of a formalized actual business plan with more details regarding finances and I actual logistics.”

Applications can be found online and are open through midnight on Jan. 31. According to VDA board member and champion of the Launchpad idea, Michael Lary, there is a very low barrier to entry into the competition. Applicants need only be U.S citizens, 18 years or older and have a unique, for-profit business idea.

“We’ve done a number of different projects over the years,” Lary said. “One thing we’ve always struggled with is how do we connect with new businesses and really put ourselves on the map as this being a great place to do business. This is a way for us to really get some awareness outside of the downtown community in Southwest Washington that maybe doesn’t exist just yet.”

Downtown Vancouver seen from the Oregon side of the Columbia River at dusk in summer of 2019. Photo by Jacob Granneman
Downtown Vancouver seen from the Oregon side of the Columbia River at dusk in summer of 2019. Photo by Jacob Granneman

VDA also is strongly encouraging women and minorities to apply for the competition.

Both Walker and Lary explained the desire for a destination business. The VDA will give preference to all ideas centered around a “new element” to the downtown landscape and cultivate a hub for community.

Citing both Powell’s City of Books off Burnside in Portland and The Mighty Bowl on downtown’s 8th Street, Walker explained how a business that serves the community not only through a unique product or service, but also makes a space for gathering of ideas and people is their top choice in the contest.

“There may be someone who has a great idea that we hadn’t even thought of and that’s what we’re kind of actually hoping to receive is something that we haven’t even thought of,” Walker said. “We don’t want to repeat sector businesses coming in. We prefer to have something new and something that hasn’t been done, something that doesn’t really exist yet.”

The $40,000 prize package is split into two main parts, the first being $20,000 in a cash grant. Through donations from local businesses, including iQ Credit Union and Kiggins Theatre, VDA amassed $10,000 of this half and then donated the remaining $10,000 themselves.

The second main half is comprised of in-kind donations amounting to $20,000 in value. Many of these translate to services donated from various downtown businesses and business owners.

Waste Connections, for instance, in donating one year of free trash pick-up to the winning business as well as donating cash contributions. Local graphic designer, Lindsay Norberg is donating $1,000 worth of logo design work, and LSW Architects is donating some $3,000 worth of storefront designs and drawings.

The decision of which applicants to advance to the final round and then, finally, crown the winner, will be determined by a panel of 10 downtown stakeholders selected by VDA. Selection criteria will be determined by a number of factors, including novelty of the idea, destination potential and viability.

The number of applicants to advance from the initial pool to the semi-finals will be dependent on that initial number of applicants.

“Say we got 20 and like 12 are excellent applications, we’d probably narrow down to 12,” Walker explained. “We really, really want to recruit high quality business into downtown. If there are several high quality applicants, we definitely want to make sure that we’re considering them.”

The origin story of Downtown Vancouver Launchpad begins with an idea Lary discovered was working for the city of Remington, Md. The Remington Storefront Challenge asked for applicants to improve the vibrance of the city by jump-starting a new business, much like the Launch

About The Author

Jacob Granneman is a filmmaker and writer from Clark County. He is a graduate of Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College, where he studied journalism and media production. He has produced documentary stories all over the Pacific Northwest and abroad in Argentina. His passions range from sharing the love of Jesus, to cinematography, to going on adventures in the most beautiful place on earth, i.e. his backyard. He lives with his wife in Vancouver, WA. Proverbs 16:3

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