Big Ideas 2016

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Let’s Celebrate!

Of the 58 applications we received, 22 participants have advanced to this portion of the Challenge. This is a huge first step to making your big idea a reality! But it also means there’s still a lot of competition, so who’s ready to get down to business?

About the Challenge

The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties (“The Foundation”), through the generosity of its Corporate Partners, is sponsoring an Impact Opportunity Challenge (the “Challenge”). In an effort to promote entrepreneurship, the Challenge will serve as a pilot program for downtown economic development. The Challenge is open to individuals and/or groups that have an innovative business concept for one of four Utica neighborhoods: Downtown, Bagg’s Square, Brewery District or Bleecker/East District. Start-ups and “Early-Stage Businesses” (defined for purposes of the Challenge as any business venture with total lifetime revenues of $50,000 or less) are eligible to submit an application. Winning submissions will be eligible to receive up to $25,000 in funding to turn their big idea into a reality!

Competitive applications will demonstrate one or more of the following criteria:

  • Commercial activity resulting in a social return/impact as well as a financial return/impact
  • Partnership(s) with individuals, organizations or businesses committed to revitalization of downtown Utica
  • Innovative business concepts, practices and/or operations unlike those currently available in downtown Utica
  • The use of both art and technology to support or enhance the business concept

Refugee-owned, minority-owned and/or woman-owned businesses are strongly encouraged to apply.

To help applicants throughout the Challenge, The Foundation has partnered with Mohawk Valley Community College’s “thINCubator” to coach and mentor applicants. thINCubator offers accelerated programming that gives aspiring entrepreneurs the resources needed to make their vision a reality – from ideation to development to deployment. Teams are also encouraged to use other local resources, including the Women’s Employment & Resource Center and the Mohawk Valley Small Business Development Center.


Several applicants expressed interest in joining a thINCubator cohort program to help organize their business concept and prepare for the ultimate stages of the Challenge. We can’t stress enough how helpful thINCubator will be to your success. We encourage all applicants to participate in the cohort (or an idea jam at minimum).


The FINAL Deadline

All teams (regardless if you participate in the cohort) must submit the final version of their executive summary by Friday, July 22. Please note that teams that do not submit a final executive summary by Friday, July 22 will no longer be eligible to participate in the Challenge.

A panel of judges will review the final submissions and select the Challenge finalists. Finalists will be invited to Demo Day to do an in-person pitch to a panel of judges for up to $25,000. Information on the date, time and location of Demo Day will be made available once confirmed.

August 10, 2016
The Challenge’s judging panel will announce winning applicants.


  • Proposed business concepts must have a physical presence in Utica, specifically within the Downtown, Bagg’s Square, Brewery or Bleecker/East Districts as defined by the City of Utica (click here to view map). We have also worked with Chris Lawrence at the City of Utica to identify several available storefronts and buildings to get you started when planning for your location. You can access that map here:
  • Applications must describe a start-up business or an Early-Stage Business.
  • Applicants are strongly encouraged to participate in the thINCubator cohort but are not required to do so.
  • Applications may be submitted by individuals and/or groups. Individuals cannot be a member of more than one group. There is no limit to the number of individuals in a group.
  • Each individual and/or group may enter only one application.
  • Applicants must be at least 18 years of age and US citizens who reside in New York State.
  • Entries must be the original work of applicants and not violate any contract or third party rights including any patent, copyright, trade secret, proprietary or confidential information, trademark, publicity or privacy right.
  • Applicants must adhere to all of the Challenge’s deadlines and requirements as stated herein.
  • Applicants must commit to opening the business on or before September 1, 2017.
  • Applicants must commit to operate the business for a minimum of two calendar years from the conclusion of the Challenge.
  • The Foundation’s trustees, employees, committee members and their immediate family (defined as spouses, children and parents) are not eligible to participate in the Challenge.

Participation in the Challenge is subject to all federal, state and local laws and regulations. Void where prohibited or restricted by law. You are responsible for checking applicable laws and regulations in your jurisdiction before participating in the Challenge to make sure that your participation is legal. You are responsible for abiding by your employer’s policies regarding participation in the Challenge, if applicable. The Foundation disclaims any and all liability or responsibility for disputes arising between you and your employer related to this Challenge.

Click here to download the rules and regulations for the Impact Opportunity Challenge>


A prize of up to $25,000 will be awarded to an applicant or applicants selected by the Challenge’s judging panel based on the established criteria set forth herein (“Awards”). Awards will be distributed from a draw account according to a series of milestones as defined by The Foundation in consultation with each winning applicant and will be made payable to the business entity associated with each winning applicant. Failure by a winning applicant to satisfactorily meet set milestones as defined by The Foundation may result in a delay of payment of the Awards or could lead to the forfeiture of the Awards. Applicants must agree to the Terms of Acceptance for the Awards by signing a form to be provided by The Foundation, which will, among other things, set forth the requirements for using, accounting for, and reporting the Awards. The Award may only be used to reimburse legitimate business expenses and purchases required to implement the proposal submitted by the winning applicants, and cannot be used as salary. The Awards must be used and accounted for in accordance with the deadlines set forth in the Terms of Acceptance.

Marketing and Public Relations

Applicants cannot use the name of “The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties,” or any variation, adaptation or abbreviation thereof, or of any of its trustees, employees, donors or corporate partners, or any trademark owned by The Foundation, in any advertising or publicity without the written permission of The Foundation’s Director of Marketing and Communications.

Applicants are required to participate in media and press opportunities related to the Challenge. The identities of applicants and the short description of the business disclosed in the registration are considered to be part of the public domain and can be used by The Foundation for marketing and public relations purposes. However, participating in media and press opportunities shall not require, or be construed as requiring, applicants to disclose any proprietary or otherwise confidential information related to their businesses.

The Challenge’s organizers and judging panel reserve the right to disqualify any entry that in their judgment violates the letter or the spirit of the guidelines, processes and rules of the Challenge. The decisions of the Challenge’s organizers and judging panel are final and binding.
The Challenge’s judging panel will consist of representatives of the thINCubator and employees, trustees, committee members and corporate partners of The Foundation, as well as content experts, as needed, and will be selected at the sole discretion of The Foundation.
The Foundation makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, concerning the Challenge. In no event shall The Foundation, its trustees, employees, donors, corporate partners, Challenge partners, judges and mentors, be liable for (1) any advice, information or decisions made for or on behalf of the Challenge, (2) any damages, claims, costs, expenses, liabilities, damages, penalties or fees related to or arising out of the disclosure of proprietary or confidential information of an applicant, (3) any claims, liabilities, damages, royalties, costs and expenses related to any intellectual property rights, including, but not limited to, claims for infringement upon or other violation of any patent, copyright, trade secret or other proprietary right of any third party, or (4) for incidental or consequential damages of any kind, including economic damages or injury to property and lost profits, regardless of whether The Foundation shall be advised, shall have other reason to know or in fact shall know of the possibility of the foregoing.
The Foundation reserves the right to modify, suspend or end the Challenge at any time for any reason in The Foundation’s sole discretion.