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Business competitions open doors for non-winners

Call it the “American Idol” effect.

Call it the “American Idol” effect.

Sure, the winner of the TV talent show gets a recording
contract, but even the runners-up come away with exposure.

Entrepreneurs have the same chance when they enter a
business competition, said Karen Gunnison, executive director of the Murata Business
Center
in Cumberland County.

“There are great opportunities for people who have the mindset
to take it on,” she said.

Murata, a Carlisle-based business incubator operated by the
Harrisburg Regional Chamber and the Capitol Region Economic Development Corp., holds
its business competition each year to find the next entrepreneurs in Central Pennsylvania.

The competition winner was Adrian Fang, 27, who took two
years to develop the software for Cruzstar, an online food-ordering service.
Fang launched it two months ago.

He has about 20 partner restaurants in Central
Pennsylvania. Cruzstar makes money through sales commission with
its partners. The Web site is free now, but a premium service will be introduced
in the future. It will include discounts and other services.

“We’re not looking to be a phone directory of every restaurant
and caterer in the area,” Fang said.

He wants quality.

Cruzstar is a service for people who need to save time and
order a lot of food for events and lunch meetings. Ordering lunch from your
desk without picking up the phone is good. But Cruzstar also lets users plan
their food events online and send out e-mail invitations and reminders to
guests.

“We’re looking to get it off the ground and market it.
That’s the biggest hump we need to get over,” Fang said. “Consumer habits are
another obstacle, but I’m confident online ordering will continue to grow.”

Three of this year’s contestants stood out to become
finalists for the 2008 Murata Great Business Challenge. While Fang came away with the grand prize, the others could gain
enough exposure and experience to move their business ideas forward.

The winner receives six months free rent at Murata and a
board of advisors from area businesses, along with other prizes. The others can
go on with their lives and ideas, but their relationship with Murata and other
business-development groups doesn’t have to end, Gunnison
said.

There are other opportunities for the entrepreneurs to
receive assistance in building their business.

“It’s really up to them whether they want to make it,” Gunnison said. “Just because they didn’t win our
competition, doesn’t mean their business plan won’t work.”

The second finalist was Gregory Hess, who said high energy
prices will shine a light on his business.

“We’re trying to bring solar (power) to Pennsylvania,” he said.

Hess, 50, is the owner of Solar Tech of Pa. Inc., a dealer
in solar products and services. Solar Tech sells solar products including lighting,
controls and panels. Solar Tech installs commercial-grade systems, such as
solar hot water for laundries, hotels and other buildings. It also performs
maintenance on older systems.

Hess, a Lower Allen Township,
Cumberland County resident, is a former Tyco
Electronics employee. He studied solar technology for the last seven years
while working for other companies.

Solar power couldn’t compete with other forms of energy in
the past, Hess said, but today’s market is different.

“Utilities and fuel were too cheap, so it didn’t have a
place back then. With (prices for) everything going up, it has its place now,”
he said.

The real dream, Hess said, is to build larger solar systems
capable of powering three to four homes as well as designing solar-powered
communities, he said.

Cruzstar has nothing to do with solar power-unless you like
Mediterranean dishes with sun-dried tomatoes delivered to your office for lunch.

The third finalist was Lea Nadler. She is starting her own
engineering firm specializing in surface-water systems. She calls it CleanStream
Consulting.

Nadler has 20 years of engineering experience working for
firms such as Cumberland County-based Gannett Fleming.

Nadler’s concerns about human effects on the environment
were a big motivator to start her own firm, she said.

“Anytime there’s a construction project, the owner has to
get permits from the state and federal government if it will affect surface-water
quality,” she said. “It can be a real hassle, and there’s a lot of engineering
firms that can’t handle it or don’t want to. But I’m good at it, so I saw an
opportunity.

Nadler, 43, grew up in Springettsbury
Township and now lives in Dillsburg, York County.
CleanStream will focus on site design, erosion and sedimentation control,
wetlands preservation and regulatory compliance, she said.

Each entrepreneur has a good chance to build their business,
said Jill Edwards, executive director of Ben Franklin Venture Investment Forum.
The Harrisburg-based nonprofit is a support network for entrepreneurs and
investors. She was a judge for the business competition.

“By applying to the competition, you’ve gotten into the
entrepreneurial development network,” Edwards said.

That will help startups find private and state funding
sources. Entrepreneurs also can meet other businesspeople, some who can help
with their experience and advice, she said.

“How many runners up have gone on to make a good career for
themselves?” Edwards said. “It’s all about getting into the system and getting
connected.”

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