A Chattanooga startup will compete in the final round of a nationwide business competition next month after winning $20,000 in a semifinal round in June.
Bellhops, a moving company that exclusively uses college students to move people in and out of apartments or houses, will compete against four other semifinal winners for the $200,000 grand prize of the Miller Lite Tap the Future competition on August 16 in Chicago.
The competition, in its second year, is open to any business that is less than five years old with revenues of less than $5 million. Bellhops was one of 25 semifinalists who pitched in five cities across the United States, and one of five finalists.
"It turned out to be a huge event," said Bellhops co-founder Stephen Vlahos. He handled the five-minute pitch and 10-minute question-and-answer session in front of a crowd of about 400 in Atlanta -- including judge Daymond John, one of the investors on ABC's hit TV show Shark Tank.
"It was pretty impressive," Vlahos said.
Bellhops employs 23 people in Chattanooga and has another 8,500 qualified 'bellhops' -- college students who have passed Bellhops' online screening and training and are eligible to pick up moving jobs for the company -- in 130 cities across the United States.
He said the company will likely use the $20,000 in prize money -- and the $200,000 if the company wins the final -- to support marketing efforts.
"We're growing rapidly and we've gone from 40 markets to 130 in a year," Vlahos said. "That's expensive as far as recruiting and marketing goes. We're putting a lot of money into getting our name out there."
Bellhops executed 300 moves last week and is aiming to finish the year with 15,000 moves, Vlahos said. The end of August is one of the busiest times of year at the moving company, which is backed by Lamp Post Group.
The Miller Lite prize money is not an investment in exchange for equity, and there are no strings attached to the prize, said Steve Canal, manager of community commerce and partnerships at Miller Lite.
"Usually if you give away $200,000 you want something in return," he said. "But this is a way for us to give back and support entrepreneurs. Without small business there is no America."
He added that Bellhops gave a stand out performance at the Atlanta semifinal.
"They were so charismatic and had so much energy," he said.
While the Atlanta pitch was a very large event, the final interview in Chicago will be a closed-door affair, with a panel of 10 high-powered judges.
"Because," Canal said, "it gets intense."
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Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...