Rockville Economic Development Inc. declares winners in StartRight competition

August 26, 2012

Rockville Economic Development Inc. has chosen the winners of its annual Start­Right business plan competition, awarding the top prizes to entrepreneurs who created a social networking Web site and a device for people with sensory processing issues.

The competition, now in its ninth year, aims to foster women in business by inviting female entrepreneurs to pitch a detailed business plan and doling out roughly $20,000 in prize money.

Sensory Shield claimed first place in the general business category, a distinction that includes a $5,000 prize. The money will help further the development of an apparatus that creates a physical barrier between two people when seated in a crowded location.

Founder Lisa Daly designed the device for people who are highly sensitive to touch or have difficulty processing information from their senses. It’s a condition common is people with autism, said Daly, who is autistic.

Daly said the money will allow her to continue the business without yielding control to outside investors. “I’m very focused on our mission, more so than making money. Money is nice and all that, but I don’t want to do that at the expense of the mission,” she said.

Unique Optique, a Frederick-based business that provides eye care services and sells artfully designed spectacles, took home $2,500 as the category’s second-place winner.

SameGrain has built a social network that connects people who do not know one another but share similar interests or lifestyles. The company earned first in the high-tech category and won $6,000 as a result.

“The competition helped validate our business plan and strategy,” said founder Anne Balduzzi. “It’s always nice to hear you are on the right path, with the right idea, at the right time.”

Balduzzi said the company, based in a Baltimore business incubator, will continue internal testing of the Web site before launching a beta version in the next several months. SameGrain also won the readers’ choice poll on www.capbiz.biz.

McLean-based CampEasy, a Web site for parents to find summer camps and register their children, collected $2,500 as the category’s second-place finisher.

The winners “knew their business and their business model inside and out,” said Alicia McLeod, the contest’s project manager. “They were very comfortable with all of the finances and the different parts of the business and they were able to articulate them.”

The winners will be formally acknowledged on Thursday at the Power Conference, a regional summit in Bethesda for women in business.

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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