Winners of the Boom Conference's Business Pitch competition are congratulated by judges and sponsors. From left: Samira Cook Gaines, founding partner of Global Empowerment Solutions and competition judge; Marguerita M. Cheng, CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth and competition judge; Charlene Brown, ReciproCare founder and competition awardee; Angela Heath, founder of the Boom Conference; Felicia Brown of competition sponsor AARP; Judy O'Connor, Like Neighbors founder and competition awardee; Lorette Farris, CEO of iBoss, Inc., and competition coach; and Grier Melick, small business consultant at the Maryland Small Business Development Center and competition judge. (Brigette White/The Washington Informer)

The 2018 Boom Conference allowed attendees to explore how to tap existing skills to start a business or pursue “gig” work.

“The ‘boom’ in the conference name describes people who are ready for their lives to explode with opportunities and passion,” said conference founder Angela Heath.

Research shows that people 45 and older are rethinking retirement and seeking ways to bring in extra income. That’s why more than 100 people came to the Silver Spring Civic Building on June 7 for guidance on how to start a business and to learn about the “gig” economy to find part-time or interim work.

The second annual Boom Conference included a Business Pitch Competition sponsored by AARP. Six local businesses started by individuals 45 or older submitted applications to be considered for startup or growth funding.

Companies registered for the competition in April. Over several weeks, the applications were reviewed and interviews with the business owners were conducted by AARP, conference organizers and a panel of judges.

The field was narrowed to six entrepreneurs who gave presentations at the Boom Conference. Scores from a three-person judging panel counted for 75 percent of the final tally.

Veronica Johnson, WJLA-TV (Channel 7) meteorologist, hosted the conference’s pitch competition, in which attendees were able to vote via text, making up the remaining 25 percent of the final score. AARP awarded $5,000 each to the top winners in the two categories.

“The entrepreneurs who signed up for the pitch competition took skills they already had to create business ideas for much-needed services,” Heath said.

The winner in the Startup/Early Stage category was ReciproCare, an online technology platform owned by Dr. Charlene Brown that makes it easy for employers and caregivers to connect.

“When I first started, I was laser-focused on home care,” Brown said of her company. “But with caregivers working in multiple settings, I needed to look at all of the care settings including skilled nursing, assisted living and adult medical day care facilities.”

Like Neighbors was the winner in the Growth Company category. Launched in September by Judy O’Connor, Like Neighbors manages long-distance care needs for individuals who know someone in need of meals, pet care or transportation to appointments.

Currently, Like Neighbors arranges for meal delivery to someone who may be shut in or has limited access to transportation. The money from the pitch competition will help O’Connor expand her company.

“This year, our plan is to expand nationally and to add services to our platform,” O’Connor said. “We’ve already taken calls from grandparents who want to send services to their children and a new grandbaby.”

Coaching the finalists was Lorette Farris, CEO and business strategist at iBossinc, a company that helps early stage startups identify investors. The former Wall Street investment banker helps startup companies understand current rules and regulations for raising as much as $50 million.

Farris worked with the six finalists to help them refine their business plans and public pitches.

“I made sure that their presentations were not just what they wanted to say about their business, but what an investor would want to hear,” Farris said about her guidance to the finalists. “When an investor sets up a meeting, that’s a test. If you don’t have the pieces that are asked for in a timely fashion, then you’re going to lose them.”

Other conference sponsors include BB&T Bank, Farmers Insurance, WJLA-TV, TKC Incorporated, SCORE’s D.C. chapter, Constant Contact, The Senior Zone Radio Program, and Your LinkedIn Driving Instructor.

Brenda C. Siler

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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