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“Startup Mendocino celebrates small business competitors†By LILI ADKINS | for The Ukiah Daily Journal PUBLISHED: August 27, 2019 at 4:49 pm | UPDATED: August 27, 2019 at 4:49 pm

Entrepreneurship is an essential part of any economy, and Mendocino County is absolutely no exception. Because the area is so rural, small and local businesses play a huge role in creating the jobs and products that keep the county running.

In order to support local entrepreneurs, West Business Development Center decided to host an event called Startup Mendocino, a competition for aspiring businesses for a selection of prizes. The company in first place at the end of the competition received a whopping $10,000.

West Business Development Center is a nonprofit organization that offers free business advising to small businesses with 100 or fewer employees. It also offers low-cost workshops about social media advertising, balancing the books, and more.

Mary Anne Petrillo, CEO of West Business Development Center, had the idea for Startup Mendocino a few years ago. After working tirelessly to secure funds and raise awareness of the project, her dream finally started coming to fruition last May, when West started accepting applications of prospective competitors.

“We were totally blown away,†Petrillo says. “We received 80 applications.â€

From the 82 applicants, only 12 could continue on to the semi-final. The process for narrowing down such a daunting number was difficult for the judges. “These businesses were all amazing.â€

Once the 12 were selected, they all underwent a 16-hour intensive “Business Bootcamp,†where they learned skills to help them compete in the semi-final Aug. 5. Each team created a five-minute pitch for their company, after which only five competitors remained.

This count included Ande, a Swedish clog manufacturer; The Mendocino Voice, a local news outlet; Are We Safe Yet?, a cybersecurity company; The Forest People, an organic mushroom jerky producer; and The Red House, a coworking space in Mendocino.

On Sunday night, the five teams competed in the final round, vying for the $10,000 prize. The winner was determined by a combination of audience votes and points distributed by three judges and economic experts.

Also present on Sunday was Isabel Guzman, the director of Small Business Advocate for the governor’s office. She traveled to Ukiah especially for the event.

“Entrepreneurs drive the economy, but more importantly they transform the world we live in,†she says. Events like this are very meaningful to her because of family history in owning small businesses.

Before their presentations, the companies had the opportunity to destress with a gala outside the theater. Mama Grows Funk, a band based in Fort Bragg, played live music while attendees swayed to the sound and enjoyed complimentary wine and appetizers.

The festivities could only last so long. Finally, the moment arrived for the presentations. Around 225 people took refuge from the heat in the cool theater, and the show began.

First to pitch was The Red House, the perfect place for individual and collaborative work outside the office or home. Founders Lia Wilson and Scarlett Trillia detailed their plan to expand their business by advertising more and opening another space inland. Reaching their audience of coastal locals and workers passing through the area has proved difficult thus far, but they are confident in their ability to expand their market and grow financially.

Next, The Mendocino Voice gave its presentation. Founded by Kate Maxwell and Adrian Fernandez-Baumann, the website focuses on releasing breaking news as quickly as possible. After working for local newspapers, the duo realized that there was an opportunity to use multimedia communication to produce quality, speedy news sources.

“We wanted to fill the gaps,†says Maxwell. The company works to achieve this goal through live streaming content and uploading articles as quickly as possible.

They placed a priority on the local aspect of their company; rather than covering huge national topics, Maxwell and Fernandez-Baumann work to provide insight to Mendocino County issues.

After them, Tom Jacobson, founder of Are We Safe Yet? took the stage.

“Cybercrime is a business,†he explains. “And it’s big business.â€

Jacobson’s company works to educate organizations and small businesses about the danger of the digital age; with a paid subscription, his customers receive services like software support and training. It is important to him that people stay safe on their computers and do not fall victim to scams and viruses. Any money he wins will go toward getting more certifications, allowing him to tackle even more issues, he said.

Fourth, The Forest People presented their idea of producing mushroom jerky. Lama Nasser-Gammett, founder of the company, introduced a comprehensive plan of where The Forest People would be in three years. Because so many people are going vegan, Nasser-Gammett predicts that the business will continue to grow because mushrooms offer a healthy, nutritious and meatless snack.

Currently, they sell fresh mushrooms at local farmers markets, but they want to start retailing their mushroom jerky, dried and seasoned to perfection. “We’re passionate about growing food,†she says. “Everybody loves food.â€

Finally, Ande, a Swedish clog company, gave its speech. The inspiration for Ande’s unique idea stemmed from Jennifer Anderson, a co-founder, and her adoration for the footwear. After owning a pair for several years, she and Brian Newell, her business partner, realized that they could produce shoes of higher quality.

For this company, the grand prize would be used to officially launch their product. Rather than just hand-carving prototypes, the duo would be able to mass-produce enough shoes and sizes to kickstart their website. Eventually, they want to open a store for their products.

After 25 minutes of intense presentations, the audience was invited to cast their votes and wait until the votes were counted. Excited chatter filled the halls as community members predicted which company would receive the grand prize while nibbling on cheese and cookies.

After 10 minutes of anticipation, everyone was called back into the theater. Each prize was given to the entrepreneurs by the organization that donated the money.

Savings Bank of Mendocino County contributed the third-place prize, $2,500.

Stacy Starkey, senior vice president, says, “Part of being a community bank is donating to community events. We were so proud to support.â€

The Red House came in fifth place; in fourth, the Mendocino Voice; third, Are We Safe Yet?; second, Ande; and first, The Forest People. The winner was announced with a giant check and a standing ovation.

“It feels great to win,†confesses Nasser-Gammett. “We’re really grateful for the community support.â€

All of Sunday’s competitors walked away with a cash prize, ranging from $750 to $10,000.

“Every single one of these companies has the ability to be successful after the event, regardless of the placing,†says Petrillo, the West Business Development Center CEO. She has faith that all the contestants will go on to achieve great things in the future.

She and everyone involved in the event hope to have inspired a few entrepreneurs to apply to Startup Mendocino in the future, which they hope will become an annual competition.

Read the article online at The Ukiah Daily Journal here.

Startup Mendocino is a Business Bootcamp and Pitch Competition designed to spark new thinking about what is possible in Mendocino County through entrepreneurship. Startup Mendocino is sponsored by the West Business Development Center, America’s SBDC, The John and Sandra Mayfield Economic Development Fund at the Community Foundation of Mendocino County, Adventist Hospital, Savings Bank of Mendocino County, Economic Development and Financing Corporation, Mendocino College, North Coast Brewery, Harvest Market, The John Pack and Linda Francis Family Fund at the Community Foundation of Mendocino County, Ukiah Chambers of Commerce, Mendocino Coast Chambers of Commerce, Willits Chambers of Commerce, The Coast – KOZT, and the California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity.

Startup Mendocino is supported by the Small Business Administration and California Governor Gavin Newsom’s Office of Business & Economic Development.

As always, to sign up for free business advising from WestBDC go here

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