The spirit of entrepreneurship was celebrated at Ed Smith Stadium on Friday as the inaugural BuzzPrizeExpo launched. Now, organizer Suzette Jones hopes to start up conversation about providing better support to up-and-coming businesses. We proved that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well on the Gulf Coast,” she said. “From the vendors to the six selected startups who pitched to private investors, we saw innovation and enthusiasm at all levels.”

Among the business minds celebrated at the event was Adnan Dedic, who along with business partner Samuel Runnacles won a Young Entrepreneur award. Dedic, who is working on the development of one app that blocks social media use while driving and another that allows users to share fitness and dieting progress on social media, said the event marked an important chance to pitch investors and network with marketing and other professionals. “This was just one more step up in terms of progress,” he said. “It was a good event, and it will definitely pick up and inspire other entrepreneurs to create and make a difference.”

Other awards honored all kinds of mentors and startups. Heather Holst-Knudson of KidBacker won a Woman Entrepreneur award and Chris Mitchell of Rimlox was honored as a Veteran Entrepreneur. Voalte President and CEO Trey Lauderdale was named Entrepreneur of the Year, while Biter Enterprises Founder and CEO Jesse Biter was named Connector of the Year and Ron Ciaravella of Dolphin Aviation was named Influencer of the Year. Meanwhile, former U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith was honored as Person of the Year.

Jones said the BuzzPrizeExpo also revealed some gaps in the region’s business infrastructure, particularly when it comes to support for early-stage entrepreneurs. “If we want our innovators to stay in the region, we must give them our business at the very beginning. These hardworking startups need support from our public officials, organizations and clientele. It is the future economy of our region.”

Photos by Wyatt Kostygan: Samuel Runnacles and Adnan Dedic pick up the Young Entrepreneur Award at BuzzPrizeExpo.

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