Anniston native competing in entrepreneurship contest
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Jul 10, 2013 | 4172 views |  0 comments | 75 75 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Benjamin Bickerstaff
Benjamin Bickerstaff
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While working for a general contractor last year, Benjamin Bickerstaff discovered a problem.

The Anniston native found that despite the availability of smart phones and Internet search engines, helping his bosses find subcontractors, such as a brick mason, around the state was not easy.

The problem made Bickerstaff's job harder, but it gave him an idea to create a one-stop database of construction contacts — an idea that could help him win up to $100,000 and propel him into the world of entrepreneurship.

Bickerstaff, 22, a Saks High School graduate and a civil engineering student at the University of Alabama, is one of a handful of people to make it through the first round of Alabama Launchpad, a statewide entrepreneurship contest run by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

If Bickerstaff's idea is selected, he could win a portion or even all of $100,000 in prize money to fund his endeavor. A panel of judges will choose a contest winner or winners Sept. 26.

Bickerstaff calls his idea Bidsters, a professional social media site for the construction industry. The project is similar to the site LinkedIn, which offers data and contact information on professionals in various industries.

"It's more for commercial-grade building, not residential ... for businesses in the construction industry to communicate and collaborate with each other," Bickerstaff said.

Bickerstaff said that at such a site, a general contractor in Birmingham who has a job in Tuscaloosa and needs a mason, for instance, could quickly search for one that fits the needs of the project.

"You cut out the middle part of searching and get down to business," Bickerstaff said.

Greg Sheek, director of the Alabama Launchpad programs, said there are 10 groups competing for the prize this year and just getting as far as Bickerstaff has is not easy.

"It is difficult to get in," Sheek said. "There are a number of things you have to submit in the application phase, such as a business plan on a single page, a 3-minute video and pitch slides."

The Launchpad program began in 2006, funded by private and state money, to support entrepreneurship in the state.

"The idea is to advance them to become a business that creates jobs," Sheek said.

The program previously sponsored the contest once a year. However, this is the first year in which the contest is being held twice due to increased fundraising. Bickerstaff is participating in the second contest of the year.

Bickerstaff said he feels he has a good chance of winning the contest, if he can show that he can convince those in the construction industry to use his product.

"It's such an old industry ... many are averse to new technology," Bickerstaff said. "You have to change the mindset ... show that you're giving them a product that saves them time and money."

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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