Nearby gift registry wins $25k prize

MANCHESTER – While planning her wedding four years ago, Alison Grappone was disappointed to find that every gift registry site she found only contained offerings from big box stores.

“People kept asking us for gift registries, and we didn’t want one because we don’t like stuff and we didn’t want to support the big chain stores,” Grappone, of Bow, said.

Grappone and her husband wanted local gifts, from independent book shops and the community playhouse, or a share in a community-supported agriculture program. So she created a Google document that would allow gift-givers to choose from these options.

A self-described social entrepreneur and environmental advocate, the 31-year-old Grappone realized not every bride or groom-to-be would utilize Google. So she saw an opportunity – a gift registry solely dedicated to local, independent businesses and nonprofits.

Last week she won a $25,000 cash prize from the New Hampshire Start-Up Challenge business plan competition to turn the idea into a reality.

The third annual contest was put on by the Manchester Young Professional Network, a 3,000-plus member nonprofit organization with the aim of bolstering aspiring entrepreneurs in the state.

Out of 50 contestants, the final two were Grappone and Cameron Miner of Brentwood-based TRX Sports. Miner entered a product called FLEYE, a GPS-driven video camera used to capture sporting experiences.

It was Grappone’s proposed Web site, Nearbyregistry.com, that captured the hearts and minds of the judges at Saint Anselm College in Manchester on Thursday.

“It’s unique from existing registries,” she said, “one because it’s offering access to local goods and services, whereas other are focused mostly on chain stores.”

Nearbyregistry.com is also unique in that most registries put up barriers that prevent small businesses from participating, Grappone said.

She is hoping her service will do some good for the Granite State.

“More dollars stay within a local economy when you spend locally,” Grappone said. “That increases the number of jobs; it gets people out on the town. Really, it widens up the downtowns that have currently been hard hit from the economy.”

Three years of research and interviewing gift-givers, receivers and the vendors and producers who make those gifts possible led Grappone to conceptualize Nearbyregistry.com into what it will soon be.

“Hands down, almost everyone I talked to said I wish I had had that during my wedding or my baby shower,” she said.

Grappone said once the site is up, individuals will create a profile. They then select a radius of businesses, either statewide or within a chosen distance.

Finally, they will pick items or services to form a wish list that wedding or shower attendees can browse.

The Start-up Challenge contest came not only with a $25,000 cash prize, but also the legal services of the Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green law firm, and the accounting services of Howe, Riley and Howe.

Grappone said legal counsel and accounting were the two most important things Nearbyregistry needed.

The $25,000 will go to contracting a web-designer to execute the plan. She is currently deciding between several New Hampshire-based firms, one in Boston, and another in Portland, Maine.

Asked how she plans to introduce her product to the New Hampshire business community, Grappone said a partnership with NH Made will grease the wheels. NH Made is a nonprofit organization with more than 700 members across the state. Members are local producers and vendors, precisely the types of business Grappone is hoping will sign on to Nearbyregistry.

Nearbyregistry is also likely to include nonprofit organizations, for gifts in the form of donations.

Some 75 people attended last week’s event. The two finalists delivered one last “elevator pitch” to the crowd, before a video montage of the competition was shown. Finally the check was unwrapped, revealing Grappone as the winner.

Miner, the second finalist, said he will enter the contest again next year. In spite of losing, Miner said the experience gave him the opportunity to meet a broad range of people such as lawyers, bankers, and experienced entrepreneurs that were part of the program.

Miner said he’s looking forward to getting feedback from the judges as to how he can fine-tune his business strategy.

“As an entrepreneur when you’re starting out in your basement, it’s great to get that external validation that what you’re working on is really exciting and interesting to other people,” Miner said. “And a good business fundamentally.”