Human Resources and Small Business & Startups

Pitch contest features women-owned firms

Entrepreneurs are competing to win up to $10,000 to help with startup costs.

September 11, 2015
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For the first time, an upcoming competition will give West Michigan women entrepreneurs a shot at up to $10,000, as well as access to support services and technical assistance to further their paths toward owning a successful business.

The Michigan Women’s Foundation is bringing its popular Entrepreneur YOU Business Plan & Pitch Competition to West Michigan next month, and 10 finalists have been selected to pitch their business idea to a panel of five judges.

The competition has been held in Southeast Michigan since 2012. The Michigan Women’s Foundation is adding the West Michigan competition as part of its efforts to become a truly statewide organization supporting women entrepreneurs.

The competition finalists were selected this summer by business and industry professionals along with successful entrepreneurs, based on two-page concept papers the competitors submitted outlining their business idea.

A panel of judges will select the winners of the Business Plan & Pitch Competition during the October event.

Of the 10 finalists, five will compete in the Growth category and five will compete in the Lifestyle category. Judges will select a first-, second- and third-place winner from each category.

The two first-place winners will receive $10,000, second-place winners will receive $5,000, and third-place winners will receive $2,500. The six winners also will receive in-kind support services in the form of legal, accounting and marketing assistance.

The West Michigan Business Plan & Pitch Growth finalists are: Valerie Obenchain, Advanced Interactive Response Systems; Briauna Taylor, Fluition LLC; Liz Bartlett, KNITit; Samantha Pina, Revolve Replication LLC; and Evelyn Ritter, UMP Analytical LLC.

The West Michigan Business Plan & Pitch Lifestyle finalists are: Julie Fox, Free Love Bakery; Sarah Rickerd, Carry Your Heart Jewelry & Gifts; Elise Kutt, Mod Bettie - A Portrait Boutique; Eleonora Frey, Successful Generations; and Nikki Thompson Frazier, Sweet Encounter.

Competition judges include: Beverly Wall, president of International Inc.; Cynthia Kay, president of Cynthia Kay & Co.; Jeanne Englehart, founder and owner of ETC Consulting; Bill Walker, president of Legacy Trust; and Catherine Creamer, director of Mentor Connect at Emerge West Michigan.

The West Michigan Business Plan & Pitch Competition is scheduled for 8-11:30 a.m., Friday, Oct. 16, at Grand Valley State University’s L. William Seidman Center, 50 Front Ave. SW.

Prior to the competition, the Michigan Women’s Foundation is hosting Dolphin Tank, a nationally recognized event that provides helpful feedback to entrepreneurs regarding their business plan and pitches.

Dolphin Tank is a takeoff on the television show “Shark Tank,” and is described as the “kinder, gentler version.”

The Dolphin Tank competition is scheduled for 1-4 p.m., Friday, Sept. 25, also at the Seidman Center.

Dolphin Tank panelists will hear from six of the finalists who will compete in the West Michigan Business Plan and Pitch Competition.

Dolphin Tank West Michigan finalists include: Valerie Obenchain, Advanced Interactive Response Systems; Briauna Taylor, Fluition LLC; Liz Bartlett, KNITit; Samantha Pina, Revolve Replication; Evelyn Ritter, UMP Analytical LLC; and Julie Fox, Free Love Bakery.

Dolphin Tank panelists are: Marge Byington Potter, executive director of Continental Rail Gateway; Roger Jansen, senior vice president of human resources and corporate strategy at Spectrum Health; Jamie Mills, owner of JRM Holdings; and Amy Millman, president of Springboard Enterprises.

Over the past three years that the Business Plan and Pitch Competition has been held in Southeast Michigan, $163,000 in cash and in-kind services have been awarded to 19 women entrepreneurs.

“This competition is an unprecedented opportunity for women to pitch their business ideas to business leaders and investors,” said Carolyn Cassin, president and CEO of Michigan Women’s Foundation. “Along with cash prizes, the competition allows women to test their venture ideas and supports the creation of viable businesses.”

Michigan Women’s Foundation is committed to helping women entrepreneurs across the state succeed by connecting them with the resources they need to launch and grow their businesses. Cassin said the competition is closely aligned with the foundation’s mission of advancing the economic, professional and social wellbeing of women and girls.

“The Michigan Women’s Microloan Fund has committed to an ambitious goal of actively supporting the launch of 100 women-owned businesses in three years, and this is an exciting vehicle to advance that objective,” Cassin said.

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