Marriott’s Fairfield brand sponsors small business competition

BETHESDA, MARYLAND Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott is giving a major boost to an innovative start-up company that is trying to make the world a greener place one home and one business at a time.

During the Fairfield-sponsored contest, which kicked off in September, 10 small business finalists hit the road for three months, traveling across the country and staying at Fairfield hotels for free while chronicling their progress on social media. At the outset, each finalist had setup specific business goals. At the end of the contest, a panel of small business experts selected the one finalist most successful in achieving his business goals.

After three months of competing in the Fairfield Inn & Suites Small Business Road-to-Success Challenge, Ecycler Inc., cofounded by Timothy Laurent and Craig Robertson, has won the US$20,000 grand prize.

Ecycler is creating a new way to recycle by connecting people discarding recyclables, such as cans, bottles and newspapers with those wishing to collect and sell them. The green social venture based out of Lake Forest, Illinois, provides an alternative to the many U.S. households or businesses that are not offered curbside recycling, or which have to pay for curbside recycling. During the three month challenge, Ecycler exceeded the business goals the company set by registering more than 100 new collectors and more than 600 new discarders.

Laurent and Robertson found success by pairing the use of social media to open doors for in-person meetings with smart business travel at Fairfield Inn & Suites. As part of the competition, each of the 10 small business finalists received 15 free hotel nights at Fairfield Inn & Suites. While many small business owners do not recognize the business value of social media or how to use it effectively to win new customers, Laurent and Robertson have found the tool helpful in growing the business.

“The Fairfield Small Business Challenge gave us the opportunity to stay for free and close business deals that would not have been possible without them,” Laurent says. “The contest also taught us how to more effectively use social media to grow our business. We achieved the best results when we used social media to open doors for in-person meetings.”

During the Small Business Road-to-Success Challenge, the finalists shared the highs and lows of their journeys by blogging, tweeting and posting photos from the road. Over the three month competition, the finalists stayed at Fairfield properties in 26 states. Recognizing the importance of social media in growing a small business, the finalists also competed in three social media mini-challenges that sparked ideas on how to increase their Twitter followers and Facebook friends, as well as engage with bloggers. As a result of the social media mini-challenges, the finalists increased their Twitter followers by more than 15,000 and fans on Facebook by 9,000 in less than three weeks.

“Congratulations to ecycler, as well as the nine other finalists who participated in the spirited competition,” says Shruti Gandhi Buckley, Fairfield’s vice president of global brand management. ”It has been said small business is the engine that drives the U.S. economy, helping to create jobs. With the challenge, Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott aimed to give small businesses an opportunity to grow, prosper and achieve greater success.”