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[ad is doing now. 

The program was sponsored by large names, such as Johns-Hopkins University and Seawall. Today, two new businesses, a creative studio and minority-owned printed goods shop are operating in the suburb of Baltimore. 

Lary, who is also the owner and operator of downtown’s Source Climbing Center, saw Remington as an opportunity to transplant the spirit of a competition to the city he loves and wants to see expand. 

“When I opened up downtown, I credit a lot of our success to certain people, being willing to work with us and listen to us when a lot of people wouldn’t,” Lary said. “That’s what I want to do with this project, or I hope this project does. It’s easy to find the problems, but we have someone come in and says, ‘Here’s a really great idea,’ instead of trying to find the problems, we can try to find the solutions and really make that possible, and add to what people can have in their neighborhood.”

The target for the new business will be within VDA’s sphere of influence, from north of Mill Plain to west of Kauffman. It is the goal of VDA to have the new business setup on or near Main Street, Walker said. 

There is also a possibility the new tenant could receive six months of free rent if finances allow. For more information on the Launchpad Competition or to apply, visit the Vancouver Downtown Association’s page online.             

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