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Local businesses compete for prizes in Entrepreneur Challenge
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Central Valley Standup Paddle students compete in a friendly race last summer at Modesto Reservoir. CV Standup Paddle is one of the local businesses hoping to win prizes in the San Joaquin Entrepreneur Challenge. - photo by Photo Contributed

Two years ago Dale and Johni Melden decided to take their shared passion to the next level and open a small business — thus, Central Valley Standup Paddle was born.

"I grew up as a surfer. Being landlocked here in the Valley, I was looking for a way to get the beach culture and vibe that surfing has," said Dale Melden.

To the Meldens, bringing the recreational sport of standup paddleboarding to area lakes was the best way to bring a little bit of the beach here to the Valley.

The sport is just like it sounds — a person stands up on a surf board and then propels through the water using a paddle. The Meldens' business consists of traveling to local lakes, mainly Modesto Reservoir and Turlock Lake, and offering standup paddleboarding lessons and rentals. CV Standup Paddle is open year-round for private lessons, but most of the classes offered run from April through October.

Although only open for two summer seasons, Dale Melden said the response has been "phenomenal."

"When we started, we didn't know. It's a unique lifestyle and unique sport; we were curious where it would go," he said. "We were booked every day this summer."

The positive response paddleboarding received locally and their business' burgeoning success prompting the Meldens to look for ways to expand. That is when they heard about the San Joaquin Entrepreneur Challenge.

The San Joaquin Entrepreneur Challenge is a multi-round business plan competition including audience and expert judging. The audience and judges select two finalists eligible for the top prizes and an opportunity for further discussions with potential investors and advisors. A total of at least $10,000 in cash and $14,000 in professional services will be awarded to the two winning entrepreneurs when the San Joaquin Angels investment group, in collaboration with regional educational institutions and economic development groups, stages the fourth annual Challenge on Feb. 27 and March 20.

"Our activity is unique and very much so in its infancy, so we decided to enter the Challenge," Dale Melden said. "The business resources would be invaluable."

If Central Valley Standup Paddle is selected as one of the winners, Melden said the cash prize would be used to purchase more inventory.

"Paddleboarding is not a one-size fits all. You need multiple sizes and shapes," he said. "It would help us to spread the good vibes in the Valley of paddleboarding."

The San Joaquin Entrepreneur Challenge is still accepting applications to compete. Applications submitted online by Feb. 3 will be reviewed by a screening committee of business and academic experts who will select the best business opportunities for the initial public round of competition.

On Feb. 27, each selected contestant will participate in a two-minute drill to describe his or her business. The audience and a panel of judges will select several businesses to move on to the next stage.

On March 20, the remaining entrepreneurs will have five minutes to present a more detailed analysis of their businesses before the audience and a panel of judges, who will select several finalists eligible for the final competition.

The final competition will also be held at the March 20 event, where each finalist will participate in a simulated challenging business situation. Audience and judges will then select the winner and runner-up for the prizes.   

The previous three years’ Entrepreneur Challenges attracted applications from over 200 aspiring entrepreneurs with the public events drawing over 300 audience participants each year. This year’s Challenge is again being organized by business and community leaders from San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties with the added participation of Calaveras, Amador, Alpine, Mariposa and Tuolumne counties.  Entrepreneurs from the eight counties must apply online to compete in the Challenge at Workshops to help entrepreneurs prepare their applications will be offered in all three counties, with details about time, location available on the SJ Challenge web site.

Last year's grand prize winner was John Paoluccio and his manhole odor eliminator. The 2012 Challenge runner-up was then Journal reporter Alex Cantatore and his collectible war game, ShardWar.

"By winning the San Joaquin Entrepreneur Challenge I was able to meet with marketing, legal, management, and financial advisors who knew how to help a start-up business succeed and grow. The funding and professional assistance that we received from the Challenge helped to put our product in the marketplace spotlight. We now have sales in Florida, Las Vegas, Canada and even Dubai," said Paoluccio.

The Feb. 27 and March 20 events will be held from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Stockton Golf & Country Club, 3800 West Country Club Boulevard, Stockton. Members of the public are invited to attend for a cover charge for each event of $15 prepaid on-line or $20 at the door.