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Cambridge man hits a home run

Heat-resistant softball is winner in the area’s first Big Idea contest

April 1, 2010
By PAUL GIANNAMORE, Business editor

STEUBENVILLE - A heat-resistant softball that retains its hardness no matter the temperature was the winner of the nine-county Big Idea contest for innovation and entrepreneurs, held by the MCBI business incubator.

The local partner for the contest, the first one held across the region, is Progress Alliance, the public-private economic development organization in Jefferson County.

The softball is the product of William Wilson, who said he's already got production under way and fields as many as 50 inquiries every day through his Web site,

Article Photos

THE?BIG?IDEA?WINNER — William Wilson, left, of Cambridge is the 2010 winner of $1,000 and $1,000 worth of business assistance for being named top entrant in the Big Idea contest. The contest, which spanned nine counties, is held by the MCBI business incubator from Muskingum County. County entrants honored along with Wilson during a ceremony Wednesday at Bella Hall at the EM Media Center on Sunset Boulevard include Brent Long, Noble County winner; Ed Looman, director of Progress Alliance, the economic development organization for Jefferson County; James Haldeman of Muskingum County; Kevin Turner of Belmont County; Holly Minch-Hick and Willis Sears, both Jefferson County winners; and Jessica Sherman, regional coordinator for MCBI. - Paul Giannamore

Wilson said the key is a chemical treatment that gets into the core of the ball and keeps the pores of the ball hard, so that the ball remains as lively at 95 degrees as it is at 75 degrees.

Wilson was presented a $1,000 check and will be provided with $1,000 worth of business assistance to aid in the growth of Wilson's venture, through MCBI and its sponsors.

Jefferson County had 17 entrants, tied with Muskingum County for first in most entries. Holly Minch Hick and her baby leisure travel seat system, and Willis Sears, with his automated kitchen product dispenser, were the county's winners.

During the event, held at Bella Hall at the EM Media Center on Sunset Boulevard Wednesday evening, county winners were honored. They included Minch-Hick and Sears; Kevin Turner of Belmont County for Accutape; James Haldeman of Muskingum County for his pet entrance box; and Brent Long of Noble County for a removable door to transform a cargo trailer into a camper trailer.

In all, 47 entries were filed from throughout the region. Jessica Sherman, regional coordinator for MCBI, noted the entrants will be able to attend business boot camps to keep their ideas alive.

Carol Humphreys, executive director for MCBI, said she came to the organization in 2005, not knowing what she'd find in helping entrepreneurs after her 30 year career in hospitality and finance.

"There's always a new story and always something I can learn from everyone," she said.

John Glasure, executive director of TechGrowth Ohio, took a moment to remind those involved in the contest that the renewal of Ohio's Third Frontier financing program, which helps to pay for programs like MCBI to help startup businesses, is up for renewal on the May ballot.

TechGrowth Ohio, which is paid through the Third Frontier program, helps early stage businesses to cross "the Valley of Death," he said.

"From the earliest stage, when a business consists of the founder and some friends and sometimes the limit on a credit card, eventually you run out of resources. In that Valley of Death is where TechGrowth Ohio is there to help," he said. TechGrowth has grants available, has arranged an angel fund for potential business investors, and helps bring in outside capital. For every dollar in state money invested, TechGrowth Ohio has leveraged $7 in other funds for the Appalachian Region, putting it in fourth place behind Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. He said the area's entrepreneurs and their ideas are attracting investment at a rate greater than those of Dayton and Toledo.

Sherman said since 2002, the Third Frontier has helped bring 55,000 jobs to Ohio and attracted 600 companies into Ohio.

Ed Looman, executive director of Progress Alliance, the hub for MCBI's efforts in Jefferson County, pointed out Jim Emmerling, owner of EM Media, and John Riley, owner of Riley Enterprises, as examples of businesses grown from an idea here. Both men served on the judges panel for the Big Idea Contest.

Sponsors included Minor Insurance, Tri-State Financial, attorney Keith Sommer, Don Weitmarshen, Ohio University, Denny's, Southeast Ohio Financial Services, Peoples Bancorp, D'Anniballe and Co., Blake, Hershey & Bednar; EM Media, Harvey Goodman Realtor and Builder, Community Savings Bank and the Herald-Star.

(Giannamore can be contacted at


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