Websites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have helped thousands of businesses get off the ground by helping would-be entrepreneurs collect startup money from online supporters.
Now, the Charleston Area Alliance wants to bring "crowd funding" to the local business economy.
The group recently started a new program called the Thrive Initiative, which lets local entrepreneurs compete for seed money by pitching their ideas to the community.
Earlier this year, 17 Kanawha Valley businesses applied to be part of the project. The alliance narrowed the field down to nine finalists using a blind panel, then helped those finalists produce 60-second "pitch" videos for their ideas.
This Wednesday, members of the public will vote for their favorite pitch at a special event held at DigiSo, a digital media lab owned by CreateWV and West Virginia State University's Economic Development Center.
Tickets are $20 each. That buys an attendee's food and drinks, plus the ability to cast a vote in the contest.
Thrive Initiative organizer Cullen Naumoff said each pitch video would run on a loop throughout the evening. Representatives from the businesses also will attend if voters want more information about their ideas.
The entrepreneur who receives the most votes will get $2,000 from local businesses Vision Shared, Industrial Bolting, Jobs Investment Trust and Mountaineer Capital. The winner also will receive all money made from ticket sales.
Naumoff said the alliance started the Thrive Initiative because often, access to startup cash is the biggest obstacle for new entrepreneurs. And since lenders require borrowers to have a credit history, aspiring business owners often have nowhere to turn.
So-called "crowd funding" websites allow start-ups to collect small amounts of money from a large number of people. Musicians who want to record an album, for instance, ask for $10 from supporters. Those supporters, in turn, receive an advance copy of the album for their donation.
"We wanted to bring crowd-funding in person," Naumoff said.
She said a wide variety of businesses are represented in the contest.