I'm delighted to announce that HuffPost is joining forces with the e-commerce site Shopify as part of their Build-A-Business competition. Shopify itself is part of our rapidly maturing, more grown-up Internet -- a place where our online and offline lives have merged. Their engaging templates power more than 60,000 online stores, helping business owners introduce their businesses while at the same time improving the consumer experience. If you've ever shopped online, chances are you've browsed a Shopify site.
While building its business, Shopify has, since 2010, been helping others to supercharge their business ideas with their Build-A-Business competition. Build-A-Business harnesses the power of the entrepreneurial spirit in a way that can launch new businesses and improve the consumer experience at the same time. Its focus on mentorship emphasizes the importance of building relationships and tapping into the wisdom and experience of others.
Here's how the Build-A-Business competition works: Participants with a product to sell -- anything at all, whether it's crafts or t-shirts or shoes or cupcakes -- can open up an online store using one of Shopify's store templates. Shopify then pairs each participant with a mentor, who provides guidance as the business grows and the competition progresses. The top-selling shop in each of the nine categories will receive a $50,000 cash prize from their mentor.
Last year, more than 10,000 participants racked up more than $55 million in total sales during the eight months of the competition. And in addition to helping businesses get off the ground, Build-A-Business is doing an additional service: providing a glimpse into the creative process and the ways ideas can grow into viable businesses. In other words, it's not just about building, it's about telling the stories of the hard work, creativity and collaboration that fuel innovation.
Ryan French, one of last year's winners, told the story of what inspired him to start his own business. "I was frustrated with the options that were available," he said, echoing the sentiment of many inventors and pioneers. So he created GameKlip, a bracket that allows you to attach a smartphone to a PlayStation controller. As Tim Ferriss, Ryan's mentor, put it, "He started out with scratching his own itch and creating something he wanted for himself."
Also among last year's winners was GoldieBlox, a book and toy series intended to inspire the next generation of female engineers. As GoldieBlox's founder Debbie Sterling, a Stanford-educated engineer, told The Atlantic, her goal is to get "beyond the stereotype of a nerdy man sitting alone in a cubicle at a computer." And as her company's website puts it, "It's about time we opened our girls' minds beyond the pink aisle at the toy store. It's time to build a new story so our girls can help build our future."
This year, Shopify has assembled a group of mentors that includes FUBU founder Daymond John, New York Times bestselling author Tim Ferriss, photographer Chase Jarvis, swissmiss founder Tina Roth Eisenberg, entrepreneur Mark Cuban, Wine Library founder Gary Vaynerchuk, model Selita Ebanks, rapper Lil Jon, and Canadian television host Amber Mac. I'm honored to be serving as a mentor as well, and I can't wait to see what creative, groundbreaking businesses sign up. Whether it's by improving gaming or inspiring female engineers or something else entirely, Build-A-Business is about empowering creative problem solvers. Which means it's a competition that can have an impact not only on aspiring business owners, but on anyone who has ever shopped online.
Please check out the video below from some of this year's mentors: Mark Cuban, Daymond John and Gary Vaynerchuk. And then join the competition by going to http://www.shopify.com/build-a-business and spreading the word to any entrepreneurs you know.