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

Cliff Johnson, left, and Larry Niles, two of the organizers of Startup Woodstock, hope to encourage new businesses. Photo by Ethan Weinstein/VTDigger

WOODSTOCK – Let the best company win.

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

“The idea is that the closer the company is to solving a big need in society, that’s the big advantage,” said Cliff Johnson, one of the organizers and judges of Startup Woodstock.

Johnson moved with his family 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 retired in 2018.

Johnson is organizing the Woodstock contest with Jon Spector and Larry Niles, both members of the city’s Economic Development Commission, which focuses on issues such as housing, child care and affordability. the city center again. The commission provided $10,000 for the competition, and an additional $20,000 came 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 issues, or barriers, to opening a business.”

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High rents downtown contribute to the barrier, Niles said, noting that Woodstock has a difficult office space for business owners. While the former may be true, he dismissed the latter, saying that almost all business owners interviewed by the commission reported positive experiences with local government.

Niles also dismissed the idea that Woodstock caters to just one customer.

“I always cringe when I think we’re just a rich town,” he said, “because there are so many merchants and so many people who have lived here all their lives.”

With that in mind, Niles and Johnson said Startup Woodstock hopes to cast a wide net in recruiting potential applicants for the award. People whose ideas may still be in their infancy are encouraged to apply them. The same goes for service-based businesses such as electrical, sound, and childcare companies.

“A $30,000 grant can help someone start a new babysitting business very easily,” Johnson said.

Competitive requirements require business to fill a void in society and, hopefully, create a living wage job or sustainable business for the owner.

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If successful, Johnson said he hopes the competition will create an “entrepreneurial culture and (allow) people to create their own destiny.

Johnson thinks that kind of culture could grow in Woodstock. He moved to Vermont to raise his family, enjoying the Woodstock school system, tight-knit community and access to the outdoors. He works remotely, and sees Windsor County’s vacation spots as a draw for remote workers like him.

For a town of about 3,000 residents, Woodstock has devoted significant resources to economic development. Since 2016, the city’s Economic Development Commission has awarded more than $1 million to support events, physical infrastructure, retail and other activities.

This year, the city government created a program to pay landlords to convert short-term rentals into long-term rentals. The program is aimed at alleviating the housing shortage in the city, which is increasing due to the tourist attraction. The landlord received $3,000 if the tenant agreed to a one-year lease, and $7,000 for a two-year lease.

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Johnson acknowledged “the concern that comes when a community gets more vacation rentals,” including Vacasa, and added that short-term rentals can be “a small factor in affordability. “

However, he believes that vacation rentals can be “a good part of most communities” when licensed, taxed and following local regulations.

Although it’s a new idea, Startup Woodstock could grow if it’s successful, organizers say. Applicants can apply until December 1, at which time the panel of judges will be announced on December 15. then.

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