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June 16, 2017

Need space and cash for startup tech biz? Read on and apply

Winner gets coworking space in Camden and $25,000 cash

Business Entrepreneurs
Khai Tran Camden startup competition KEVIN C. SHELLY//PHILLYVOICE

Camden businessman Khai Tran is boosting a startup business competition. The winner gets free office coworking space for a year and $25,000 cash. But hurry: you must register by the end of the month.

Got a biz idea with a techie edge, but need space and seed cash?

Is pricey Center City, NoLibs and Fishtown rents a nonstarter?

But being close to the heart of the Delaware Valley is essential?

Khai Tran, 27, has a deal for you: rent-free coworking space for a year in a supportive startup community, complete with a view of the nearby Delaware River, good public transportation and – oh, and $25,000 to get things moving.

Second place is coworking space for a year. Everyone who participates gets a community membership to the coworking space for a year.

The competition is underwritten by Tran, Cloudamize and Hopeworks 'n Camden.

OK, so here are the catches: You need to sign up by the end of June, there’s a screening process and you need to make a winning pitch in mid-September.

And finally, you must keep your biz in Camden for a few years – for a to-be-determined period – and hire half of your employees from Camden or from educational institution in the city.

There’s a reason for those requirements. Tran is a Camden believer, which is why it is called the Camden Catalyst pitch competition.

An immigrant from Vietnam, he and his parents lived for years in North Camden, one of the bleakest parts of the city, a neighborhood plagued for decades with crime, violence, drugs and poverty.

But his family worked hard, toiling in low-skill jobs at sewing factories and chicken processing facilities.

Their new home in Cherry Hill was just a few miles – but a world – away from North Camden.

But when it came time for college, he went back to the city. And when he began his career as a serial entrepreneur, he planted himself in Camden.

That’s where he has an online magazine, a startup hub and an economic development organization at 121 Market St., a former bank building in the downtown section of the city.

Here's the timeline for the pitch competition:

• June 30 at 5 p.m.: applications are due. Apply here.

• July 21: Tryouts and feedback.

• Aug. 25: Prelim pitches.

• Sept. 16: Final pitches and winner named.

Click here for complete details. The final pitch is open for viewing. Here's the schedule.

The winner gets the cash and free office space, but must stay in the city. Tran also thinks the commitment for staying will be from three to five years, but that's not set. Neither are the judges.

Tran thinks Camden is an ideal place for tech startups intent on providing jobs and opportunities as the city begins reversing its fortunes.

But he said nine out of 10 people he talks with are skeptical because they have trouble seeing opportunity.

“Our hope is to show you can be a startup and succeed here. I want to use the winner like a poster child,” said Tran.