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Bright IDEAs: IDEA Competition to award $30K to local entrepreneurs

John Szurpicki of Bemidji on Wednesday demonstrates the new tilling blade he invented when he operated a landscaping company. Szurpicki is one of seven finalists in the sixth annual IDEA Competition organized by the Northwest Minnesota Foundation. Szurpicki and his fellow finalists will find out if they've won during a banquet Thursday. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Entrepreneurs from across northern Minnesota will gather Thursday to see if they'll receive $10,000 toward putting their business on the map.

Seven finalists remain for the sixth annual Ingenuity Drives Entrepreneur Acceleration (IDEA) Competition organized by the Northwest Minnesota Foundation. The competition aims to encourage new ideas by awarding money to companies with innovative concepts that are easily marketable.

At an awards banquet Thursday night at the Sanford Center, three $10,000 awards will be given to three of the seven finalists. Those seven were whittled down from an initial pool of about 20 entrants, said Marty Sieve, NMF vice president for programs. Although NWF does much of the the legwork with the competition, winners are decided by a board of 12 representatives from the event's sponsor groups, such as local banks and schools, he said. The selection committee looks not just for a good idea, Sieve said, but a good team of entrepreneurs to bring the idea into a bankable reality.

"It's not strictly a business plan competition... it's not just a theoretical thing," Sieve said. "We are evaluating the competence of the entrepreneurs themselves... the real life prospects for bringing this product to the market."

The 'Bedraptor'

One of the finalists is Bemidji inventor John Szurpicki, who recently received a patent on a new soil tilling blade called the "Bedraptor," which is designed to to dig narrow trenches around the borders of landscape beds.

The idea for the blade came to him years ago when he operated his own landscaping company and couldn't find the tool he wanted, no matter how hard he searched.

"I contacted all my dealerships that I would buy equipment from," he said. "Everything that they had me try was more a gimmick, and the things that did work were just too doggone big."

Szurpicki came up with a prototype working in his garage, taking a conventional blade design and adding angled horizontal blades that both cut the earth and heave it neatly into the landscape bed. However, rather than selling the new tool himself, Szurpicki plans to license his product to a bigger corporation that can manufacture and market his invention. The competition has already helped put him into contact with the right people, he said.

"Thanks to the IDEA Competition, I'm in communication with (farm/lawn implement company) Toro... I'm having some conversations with them to see if they have an interest," he said.

Szurpicki previously was an IDEA competition finalist in 2010, he said.

Other finalists include Addy-Olly in Thief River Falls, Berd's Innovations in Red Lake Falls, CR Data Solutions in Bagley, Gifts of the Grove in Laporte, Lamplighter Hockey in Warroad and Skyrocker Telescope in Roseau.

Past Bemidji winners include Jeff Sullivan in 2012, Mark Landes and Jennifer DeBarr, also in 2012, the team of Jason LaValley, Jorge Prince and Roger LaValley in 2011, Jeff Sullivan and Arnold Kleinsasser, also in 2011, Eric Thorsgard in 2009 and David and Bonnie Ekstrom, also in 2009.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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