Businesses talk all the time about stepping up to the next stage, so it's appropriate that this year's edition of the Willamette Innovators Network Shark Tank Pitch Competition is doing the same: 

After years at The Vue in downtown Corvallis, the competition (scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 9) is moving a little north to bigger digs at the Majestic Theatre, 115 SW Second St. in Corvallis.

Aaron Moore, president of the network, said previous editions of the competition sold out, prompting the search for the bigger venue. "We're been really trying to grow," he said.

But the basic idea behind the competition remains the same: Up to six fledgling businesses will get a chance to make a pitch to a panel of judges (pitchers and judges alike will share the stage at the Majestic). Winners will collect services and prizes, but the experience of making the pitch before an audience can itself be worthwhile, Moore said. "Early-stage companies haven't had a chance to pitch in front of investors yet," he said — and the contest offers an opportunity to do exactly that.

Winning businesses also can parlay that success into slots pitching at bigger events, Moore said, and pointed to last year's winner, WiseDoc, a word-processing app for academic articles. After winning last year's competition, the business went on to win the speed-pitch contest at the Willamette Angels Conference and has since received additional funding, he said.

The annual Shark Tank event (the title, of course, plays off the success of the ABC "Shark Tank" show) will feature businesses offering five- to six-minute pitches, followed by questions from the judges. In addition to the business the judges select as the winner, audience members will get the chance to vote for a "People's Choice" award.

The competition is the Willamette Innovators Network's signature event, and Moore said it ties in nicely with the network's goal of connecting innovators and entrepreneurs. 

Moore added that the network is taking steps to increase its profile throughout the mid-valley; as an example, he said, the organization recently held its first pub talk in Albany and drew a good audience. A followup session is in the works.

Cost to attend the Pitch Competition is $10-20, and attendance is limited. Early-bird registration ends today. Tickets and additional information is available at the website www.willamette.innovators.com

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