Start Peninsula weekend nurtures ideas to launch businesses

MadSkills, a business that connects employers with virtual military spouse talent, landed the first-place $10,000 prize at the sixth annual Start Peninsula business idea contest at the Stryker Center in Williamsburg Sunday night.

Active-duty Army spouse Erica McMannes, 36, of York County, said she started MadSkills with partner Liza Rodewald just before moving to the region about 15 months ago. McMannes had moved nine times in 15 years and knew what it was like to struggle to find a job or start and stop again, she said.

MadSkills has a community of about 2,200 military spouses and acts as a job board for employers to recruit specific virtual talent at hiremadskills.com, she said. The business already connected 60 spouses with virtual jobs, she said. Additionally, McMannes told the panel of judges the business also can recruit and manage a virtual team for employers.

While the $10,000 will help enhance the website, MadSkills participated in the Start Peninsula weekend to tap into expertise and get to know people in the region. The business plans to enter the Launchpad business incubator in New Town.

Newport News, Hampton, York, Poquoson, Williamsburg and James City jointly funded Start Peninsula and the top three winners must enter a Peninsula incubator or accelerator, like the Launchpad or Reaktor Business Technology Innovation Center in Hampton, said Tim Ryan, Launchpad director.

“Every time there’s an opportunity to tap into a network as a business owner, that’s the No. 1 selling point,” McMannes said.

Affordify, described as the “Zillow for colleges,” won second place and $7,500. Product designer Duncan Hamra and software engineer Tyler Bell, both 22 of Williamsburg, pitched the software platform as a way for aspiring college students to explore the true costs of college compared with career income expectations and then enable users to find ways to make it more affordable. They said they want to help solve the college debt problem.

“We want to get good data into the hands of families and counselors,” Hamra said.

Rebecca Mulvain, 43, of James City County and Muddy Marley’s Dog Wash won third place and $5,000. Mulvain retired from the Navy after 20 years and she said she tested the business as a pop-up this past summer. Now, she said she’s focused on opening a brick-and-mortar shop with self-serve, dog-friendly wash tubs in addition to full-service dog spa-like treatment.

Twenty-two ideas were pitched Friday night, Ryan said. The 10 finalists will have access to business boot camp-style educational training, he added.

Newport News is hosting Start Peninsula in 2018. For more information, visit startpeninsula.com.

Bozick can be reached by phone at 757-247-4741. Sign up for a free weekday business news email at TidewaterBiz.com or follow @TidewaterBiz.

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