How $ 5 and a bowl of soup can rebuild your community

List of project locations: 1. Top floor visits. 2. Bicycle rental. 3. Permanent information booth. 4. Food truck party. 5. Jazz equipment.

Five companies and community groups presented their ideas at the first "Food for thought" event organized by Main Street Enid, Oklahoma. Photo by Becky McCray.

People pay a small fee, say $ 5, to attend a local pitch event. Local groups present their ideas, everyone votes and the winner receives the money.

The real winner is the community, of course. It stimulates activity, allows people to talk to each other, creates momentum and rewards people who do good things locally.

The first project I heard about was the Detroit Soup Project. I came to attend this one when Main Street Enid, in Oklahoma, launched its series titled Food for thought. Wheeling, West Virginia, calls theirs Show of hands.

How the Wheeling Hands Competition Works

Alex Weld and Jake Dougherty of Wheeling Heritage have shared more information about this at the Main Street Now conference in 2019. The papers in their presentation are currently available on the Main Street Now 2019 app, but I think that they will probably disappear with time.

Wheeling organizes quarterly events. The organizers said they wanted to refute the common belief that "nothing is happening here".

The action inspires action, they said. Public action inspires even more action and illustrates change.

Many people are invited to meet, pay a small sum at the door and enjoy a bowl of soup in common soup pots. Local groups share their ideas for a project or company, and everyone gets a vote. The winning pitches bring in the money raised and everyone has a good time.

There is a lot of discussion and networking when people see friends and acquaintances they do not see every day.

Each event also features an update from a previous winner, thus creating a dynamic.

To start

They started small and maintained low expenses. They borrowed an event venue and brought soup to the potluck.

At first, they feared that ticket sales would not yield a lot of award money. So they looked for a sponsor. They found a local company to donate $ 1,000 to the first winner. Then they added the money raised through ticket sales. The sponsor is committed to organizing four events in this way, a full year. For some time now, more and more companies have been involved in sponsorship. Today, most winners receive a total of about $ 5,000.

They limited the number of locations to four. This helped prevent the event from being too long and making it easier to decide who to vote for.

Find candidates to present

To make sure they had four presenters for the first time, they personally spoke with people to encourage them to participate and make their case. They chose exciting projects, which they knew would attract people to the event. During this first year, most of the ideas came from non-profit organizations. More and more presenters are from small businesses that want to start or grow.

You can not install the app and sit back and wait, they said. You must prepare strong candidates.

What is holding people back?

They discovered that a lot of small entrepreneurs said they had a good idea, but they just were not ready to talk about it. This prompted the organizers to think about the barriers that keep small businesses from developing, so they conducted their own investigation.

What they learned, was that there were all kinds of knowledge gaps, different things that people struggled with in their businesses. As a result, they began to organize more training activities for small businesses in the city, creating a network of potential participants.

Make your own soup

When thinking of giving your own twist to this event, consider non-cash prices. Jeremy Zeller of Oklahoma Main Street suggested, for example, to create contextual spaces. What could you offer to the winners?

Think of the number of "winners" you want and determine if the winner wins everything. Maybe you can make sure that every idea comes out with funding. Maybe the rewards can be proportional to the votes received.

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About Becky McCray

Becky launched Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share stories and ideas of building businesses and rural communities with other small businessmen. She and her husband own an Alva, Oklahoma liquor store and a small ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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