BYOB (Build Your Own Business)

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The light bulb just went off over your head. You’ve seen a need in your community — on any scale — and decided it’s time to put pen to paper and solidify your solution. You’re ready for your unique idea to become a product, a business and a path toward building your own career.

Thankfully, The Shoals has several resources for students and community members to fine-tune their business concepts from start to finish and start making them the big dough they’re hoping for.

Small Business Development Center

Located at the University of North Alabama, the Alabama SBDC is designed to put potential business owners in touch with experts in their field of sale and focus on big-picture planning. Any community member (no enrollment at the university required) in the nine-county service area can seek assistance — currently, those counties are Colbert, Lauderdale, Franklin, Lawrence, Marion, Lamar, Fayette, Winston and Walker.

When you enter the SBDC, you’ll meet with an adviser who can help you in a variety of ways including plan development, marketing, loan proposals, financial analyses, funding sources, fiscal responsibilities and government contracting opportunities. Because the SBDC is a significant source of economic thriving in the state of Alabama, the services are offered for free for existing and start-up companies.

The SBDC — including its financial literacy library — is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Generator

Like the SBDC, the Generator on Tuscaloosa Street offers a large thinking space, though this service is provided only to UNA students. Many students find their creative spark during their time in college, though few are given the opportunity to expound on their ideas and see tangible results.

At the Generator, students will receive help creating a business model as well as build foundations to eventually promote independent operations outside of the Generator itself. Community mentors and university faculty assist students with troubleshooting and general guidance on the path to ventures that will not only thrive, but thrive sustainably.

The Generator has plenty of working space for businesses founded by more than one student, and resources provide for flexible, need-based set-up.

Shoals Idea Audition

Held on an annual basis, the Shoals Idea Audition allows entrepreneurs with a firm grasp on their business to receive potential funding and additional support.

According to the website, the purpose of the Idea Audition is to “foster new businesses, help entrepreneurs polish their presentations, and introduce community leaders who might be instrumental in helping make their ideas a reality.”

Contestants are given three minutes to pitch their business to a selected panel of judges, typically comprised of business owners in the community. Submissions are required to answer six key questions about their product, including the business model, competitors, advantages and who is part of the team behind the idea.

This year’s three finalists received cash prizes of $5,000, $2,500 and $1,000, respectively.

“It was a great experience winning last year and the confidence boost I needed to pursue opening my company, Vicinidi,” said Carl Holden, the 2017 winner who created a location-based app. “I have a long journey ahead but this competition was some of my first crucial steps.”


Ryan Mason, founder of Luxe Brand luxury shoelaces, won second place in the 2015 Shoals Idea Audition for his business. Mason’s laces have since been seen via Good Morning America, DJ Khaled, the NFL Network, Kevin Gates and more. [PHOTOS COURTESY RYAN MASON]

Biz Buzz

The key to Biz Buzz is networking. Dependent on member availability, business owners and start-up dreamers alike gather to discuss the pros, cons, triumphs and tribulations of owning a business.

At each meeting, members of the community are given 10 minutes to describe their business via presentation, then the floor opens up for a Q&A panel to discuss details. Biz Buzz is an excellent resource for those who don’t need as much detail as far as building their business, rather are looking to perfect their models or see what the demographics and needs are like in the Shoals community.