Cinderella stories about startup businesses are all too rare in the United States, especially during a slow economy. Staggering statistics about 50 percent plus failure rates are much more likely to grab the headlines. This fact makes the recent InvestMaryland Challenge winner announcement that much more remarkable for North East-based i-lighting™, manufacturer of easy-to-install LED interior and exterior lighting solutions. i-lighting™ was founded in 2007, and this is the first business venture for president and chief executive officer Scott Holland.
Scott Holland and his six-employee team were pleasantly surprised to be named one of three grand prize winning companies that received $100,000 each in cash and prizes in the state’s inaugural national competition for startup firms. i-lighting™ was selected in the General Industry category. In addition to their grand prize honor i-lighting™ also received a $5,000 award from the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center (ESEC), Easton, Md., for the best submission from a rural business.
“Long after the prize money is gone we will be grateful for what we gained as a business from the process of this experience,” says Holland. “We knew we had a great business, but until this competition we hadn’t done the fine-tuning of our business plan. The various steps of this competition made us look closely at our messaging and our financials. That will be the legacy of this process,” he adds.
What piece of wisdom would he impart to fledgling startups? “Don’t assume you will do well simply because you have a good idea. You have to tell people about your product or service. They won’t automatically come to you,” Holland explains. “By surrounding myself with successful business people I learned from their mistakes. I believe that a ‘smart business’ always starts with the people you hire. Your staff needs to ‘fit’ and everyone needs to be focused on the same goal. In turn, you need to treat them well,” he adds.
The other two InvestMaryland grand prizewinners were: Baltimore-based firms Graybug and RedOwl Analytics. In addition to $100,000, the winners also received two round-trip tickets from Spirit Airlines and legal services from Whiteford Taylor Preston, a Baltimore law firm.
In all, the competition attracted 259 entries from around the country, including 25 out-of-state companies from as far away as California, Georgia and Massachusetts. The field was narrowed over three successive rounds of judging by a panel of 79 investors, successful entrepreneurs, business executives and other members of the Maryland startup community, including Mike Thielke, executive director of ESEC.
“By serving as a judge in this competition it reaffirmed my belief and commitment to the role innovation and technology has in revitalizing the U.S. economy,” says Thielke. “These are the cornerstones of entrepreneurship that I see in my work at ESEC, and it is happening all over the country,” he adds.
Founded in 2006, the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center (ESEC) works to develop and enhance an entrepreneurial ecosystem on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. ESEC provides training; services and programs to help business owners and entrepreneurs succeed by creating greater access to capital, and offering programs that develop entrepreneurial skills and knowledge. Included are ShoreVenture, a comprehensive 10-week entrepreneur-training program, annual business plan and student plan competitions, and an annual entrepreneur conference. In 2012, ESEC launched “hotDesks,” providing co-working spaces for independent professionals. For more information on the business plan competition or ESEC, call (410) 770-9330 or visit ventureahead.org.
i-lighting™ was founded to provide easy-to-install, cost-effective and extremely reliable interior and exterior lighting solutions to homeowners, contractors and builders. The company has developed and sold thousands of custom-designed DeckLighting, StairLighting and LandscapeLighting Systems to building and maintenance professionals as well as homeowners throughout the United States.
InvestMaryland Challenge was organized by the Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED). The Challenge was designed to build a pipeline of innovative companies for the state’s InvestMaryland program. Created by Governor O’Malley and passed by Maryland’s General Assembly in 2011, the program is being run through the Maryland Venture Fund and DBED. Last year, the state raised $84 million for the program through an online auction of tax credits to Maryland insurance companies.
In photo: Scott Holland, second from left, president and chief executive officer of i-lighting™, and Mike Thielke, right, executive director of ESEC, take a moment for a photograph at the awards finale event held at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Annapolis. Also pictured are: Sean Ryan, left, vice president of Sales and Marketing; and Kerry Larotonda, second from right, Customer Service Relations manager.