Microsoft hires 'Apprentice' star as judge

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NEW YORK - Carolyn Kepcher, who helped Donald Trump fire corporate wannabes on "The Apprentice" television show, took a new role Tuesday -- helping Microsoft Corp. find the best small-business idea in America.

"It takes a big idea to create a big business," Kepcher said. "And I've seen some ideas before."

The winner of the Redmond, Washington-based company's "Ultimate Challenge" contest will get $100,000 in seed money, a storefront or other space in Manhattan for a year rent-free, and software to help get their business started.

Kepcher and fellow judges -- maternity wear entrepreneur Liz Lange and Chris Caposella, a Microsoft vice president -- began hearing ideas on Tuesday in a computer-equipped recreational vehicle parked in Midtown Manhattan.

Dozens of people waited in line for a chance to make their pitch.

Mary Miller, 38, a New Jersey municipal judge, won smiles from the judges with her idea for cafes for harried parents that would offer child care alongside cappuccinos. The cafes would be called Just Give Me a Minute.

"As a mom, I like it," Lange said.

Kepcher, Lange and Caposella eventually will pick four finalists. The winner will be chosen after another round of judging and by votes from the public.

Contestants can submit their ideas through the Web site http://www.ideawins.com or in person. The Microsoft-mobile will be making stops in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver and Las Vegas.

Submissions are due at midnight January 31 and will be judged on marketing approach, financial and logistic feasibility, originality and public interest.

Microsoft is using the competition to promote a new version of its Microsoft Office Accounting software and services for small businesses.

In addition to running upscale golf clubs for Trump, Kepcher appeared with Trump and real estate lawyer George Ross on "The Apprentice." They would confer before deciding which corporate aspirant seeking a full-time job with Trump would be "fired."

Kepcher and Trump parted ways last July, with Trump's daughter, Ivanka, replacing her on the NBC show.
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