Organizers of a search for Dalton's next big business idea say they have been "blown away" by the response.
Plans call for the Landmark Building in downtown Dalton to host the Dalton Innovation Accelerator, where entrepreneurs will be given office space and mentorship and other services to help them turn their ideas into actual businesses.
The deadline recently closed for PItch DIA, in which entrepreneurs will get to pitch their ideas to business leaders and potential investors in a format similar to the TV show "Shark Tank." The winners will be the first tenants of the accelerator.
The contest received 61 applications.
"It was a lot more than we expected. We were thinking we'd get maybe 15 or 20, but the community really responded to this," said Stacey Roach, chief operating officer of Inventure, a Dalton-based full-service technology company that provides services for companies and government, and one of the organizers.
And those applications were very diverse.
"We received applications from Atlanta, Chattanooga," said Barry Slaymaker, head of strategy at Barrett Properties, which owns the Landmark Building. "We received one application from India. We have people with great ideas in technology, manufacturing, health care, such a wide variety of ideas. They ranged in age from 10 to their late 70s. We are now tasked with a monumental task of paring them down."
Organizers said they hope to chose a group of semifinalists by March 31.
"We are thinking that maybe a quarter of the applications will become semifinalists," said Roach. "We are doing a lot of interviews to make sure those are viable businesses and that we understand the business model."
After their pitches, the semifinalists will be pared down to a group of finalists.
The organizers say the number of applications wasn't the only thing that surprised them.
"Every time I'm out in the community, everywhere I go, people ask what they can do, people I've known for a long time and people I've never met," Roach said. "Some real movers and shakers, top corporate leaders, have gotten behind us. I knew that our community would be interested in this, but I've been pleasantly surprised at just how much everyone wants to help."
"Other communities are seeing Dalton once again as an entrepreneurial hub. We have had communications from people telling us they see what we are doing and are excited about it," said Slaymaker.
In addition to Inventure and Barrett Properties, Advanced Insurance Strategies, Believe Greater Dalton, Dalton State College, the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce, Luna Design, the Minor Firm and the Morehouse Group are working on the accelerator.
Slaymaker says he also been pleased by the reaction outside Dalton.
"We've had people contact us and tell us they are excited by what we are doing," he said. "People outside this community are once again thinking of Dalton as a hub of entrepreneurial activity."