Real estate investor Ethan Conrad hosting contest with free rent for winner

Real estate investor Ethan Conrad is known for driving a hard bargain on properties and rents. But a new contest his company is sponsoring has a prize tough to beat for a small business owner trying to grow: Thousands of dollars in free rent.

The contest is for owners of existing small businesses to submit their growth plans to a panel of seven judges, including Conrad. Panel members will ultimately choose three businesses they feel have the best shot at success, with the overall winner receiving $50,000 in free rent credits. Second- and third-place winners will receive $30,000 and $20,000 in credits, respectively. Once the credits are used, the businesses are not obligated to stay.

Ken Miller, Ethan Conrad Properties’ chief financial officer, said a friend suggested the idea to Conrad. With dozens of Sacramento-region commercial properties in Conrad’s portfolio, the company can reward the winner at fairly low cost, Miller said. Ethan Conrad Properties is donating the rent credits.

To qualify, businesses have to have at least $100,000 in annual sales and 20 percent annual growth. Miller said the ideal entrant is an existing business with an owner looking to scale up. “We want something sustainable, with ideas that can grow,” he said. “We don’t want someone who just has an idea.”

Conrad owns retail, industrial and office properties, so businesses that enter can fill any of those niches, Miller said. The panel includes Miller as well as Lokesh Sikaria of Folsom venture capital firm Moneta Ventures LLC, Jim Corbet of the Sacramento Entrepreneurship Academy and Roger Akers of Fair Oaks venture capital firm Akers Capital LLC.

Because of the opportunity to get mentoring advice and pick brains of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, Miller said that business owners who enter will likely get something out of the contest even if they don’t finish in the top three.

Entries are due by Aug. 31, with five finalists presenting to the panel in early October. Business owners can enter through the website for Ethan Conrad Properties, at

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