Competition calls for local entrepreneurs to solve ‘maker’ challenges

Competition calls for local entrepreneurs to solve ‘maker’ challenges


With a $25,000 prize, Operation Opportunity Challenge: Maker Edition kicks off on November 15   

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Nov. 9, 2017) – Made By Project partners EPIcenter and Little Bird Innovation today announced a business plan competition for entrepreneurs to solve some of the most pressing challenges for makers and artisans, or those who create and sell physical – and often handmade – goods. Operation Opportunity Challenge: Maker Edition is part of the Made By Project’s development plan, which is focused on growing maker businesses and strengthening the supporting community over the next three years in Memphis by adding resources and removing obstacles.

EPIcenter, which is leading implementation of the plan’s entrepreneurial support recommendations, is seeking entrepreneurs who can build businesses around two of the identified solution areas within the Made By Project development plan, addressing needs in packaging, shipping, and distribution, and in accessing raw materials. Winners will be awarded $20,000 to advance their business idea, as well as $5,000 in business service support from EPIcenter.

More details about the competition, challenges, application process, and timeline will be made available at a kick-­‐off event on November 15, during both Minority Economic Development (MED) Week and Global Entrepreneurship Week, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Cowork Memphis, 902 S. Cooper St. Free registration is available here:

EPIcenter previously partnered with the Memphis Medical District Collaborative and U3 Advisors on the original Operation Opportunity Challenge, which resulted in two $25,000 prizes for entrepreneurial solutions to challenges within Medical District anchor institutions.

“Entrepreneurs who can build businesses around known problems, real data, and a potential customer have a better chance of succeeding, and this competition can give entrepreneurs those advantages,” said Leslie Lynn Smith, president and CEO, EPIcenter. “Not only can solutions launched through this competition help creative entrepreneurs grow their businesses, it can help start or scale another innovative business in Shelby County.”

The Made By Project, first-­‐of-­‐its-­‐kind qualitative and quantitative research of more than 300 makers, artisans, and micro-­‐manufacturers in Memphis and Shelby County, Tenn., sought to understand the aspirations and needs of entrepreneurs creating and selling physical goods created at small scale in one of four sectors: packaged food and beverage; fashion and accessories; home goods; and technology and hardware. Research results were released in February 2017 and explored data about makers in the region, assets and gaps in the area’s maker ecosystem, opportunities and challenges makers typically experience as they start a business, and the distribution of makers across business stages, from hobbyist to reputable national or global brand, as well as the fundamental resources they need to succeed and grow.

The resulting development plan outlines strategic and tactical solutions that are intended to create and coordinate programs and infrastructure to support these businesses and to prepare those who want to scale to meet the demand for handcrafted and small-­‐batch products. Over the next three years, the development plan aims to grow the greater Memphis economy in new areas, specifically: the number of maker enterprises, especially by women and minorities; the diversity and quality standard of products; the number of micro-­‐entrepreneurs scaling to small-­‐ and medium-­‐sized businesses; the demand for skilled workers; and the brand perception of Memphis for making and creative enterprises.

We’re seeing progress from the initiatives we’ve already implemented, and we’re hearing from makers that these solutions are having a positive impact on their community and that the support network in Memphis for this group of creative entrepreneurs is growing,” said Nicole Heckman, co-­‐founder of Little Bird Innovation.

Last month, 10 businesses, which included four maker-­‐oriented businesses, graduated from the plan’s recommended CO.STARTERS cohort, a nine-­‐week program that equips aspiring entrepreneurs with the insights, relationships, and tools needed to turn business ideas into action. In addition, an 11-­‐member Maker Council was formed this fall, which will guide activities that support maker businesses in the region and help drive the maker movement forward in Shelby County.

More details about the competition will be posted at­plan­‐competition2017/  after the event.


About EPIcenter

EPIcenter is the hub of the Greater Memphis entrepreneurship movement. With its network of partners, EPIcenter is the enabler of unified strategies to increase support to new and existing entrepreneurs for business growth. Serving as the broader voice of the partner network and a single point of accountability, EPIcenter measures and celebrates the impact of entrepreneurial support to create a just, inclusive, and growing economy that accrues to all Memphians. More information is at

About Little Bird Innovation

Little Bird Innovation is a Memphis-­‐based research, strategy and design firm focused on projects that drive economic development, social impact and civic innovation. We collaborate with others to tackle challenges that inspire us. From developing plans to support food entrepreneurship among immigrants and refugees to helping the Memphis public library system redefine its value and role in the lives of its residents, we bring a people-­‐centered approach to solving complex problems. More information is at