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SCORE NJ, part of the nation’s largest nonprofit network of volunteer expert business mentors, announced Thursday it is launching a pitch contest with cash awards for two winning startups or established women-owned businesses.

The competition officially opens March 1 and closes at 12 noon on March 30. Businesses and startups that are at least 51% woman-owned and registered in the state of New Jersey are eligible to apply. Nonprofit businesses are excluded, as are businesses whose products or services are related to cannabis products or adult entertainment.

Up to 10 finalists will be selected to work with a SCORE-certified mentor between April 24 and May 12 to perfect their business pitch and compete for two $4,000 cash awards. The finalists’ pitch presentations will be held virtually during the week of May 15 before a panel of SCORE NJ certified mentors serving as judges. The two grant winners will be announced by May 18.

“We don’t tell you how to use the money,” said Suzanne Stingo, district manager of marketing for SCORE NJ during an online event on Thursday to announce the program. “If you need money for rent, if you need money for product, if you need money for marketing, if you need money for sales, if you need money to hire someone – the money can be used for anything.”

To get started, women business owners can download the SCORE NJ application, which asks them to describe their target market, the need for their product or service, and how they intend to use the SCORE NJ grant to grow their business. Applicants must also identify their competition and explain how their own product or service is unique and can compete.

Stingo said that more than 105 women-owned businesses competed in last year’s first pitch contest, which is funded by the Lester, Muriel and Edie Fraser Women Entrepreneur Fund. This year, the 2023 grant awards have been increased from $2,500 to $4,000.

SCORE provides a wide range of services to established and budding business owners alike, including free mentoring and free online events on topics ranging from startup strategies to marketing and finance. SCORE also offers a library of online resources for business owners including a collection of guides, templates, checklists, blogs, videos and more.

SCORE NJ has seven chapters with more than 400 expert mentors. These chapters include: SCORE Northeast NJ (Bergen and Passaic); SCORE Northwest NJ (Morris, Sussex, and Warren counties); SCORE Metro NJ (Essex, Hudson and Union counties); SCORE Central Jersey (Somerset, Hunterdon and Middlesex counties); SCORE Princeton NJ (Middlesex, Mercer, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties); SCORE Monmouth; and SCORE Southeast NJ (southern New Jersey shore from Point Pleasant to Cape May).

To learn more about SCORE NJ, watch this Minding Your Business segment featuring District Director Gene Wolf.