Entrepreneur Competition Kick-Starts Local Business Ventures

By Julia Mericle
The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Calling all Ohio entrepreneurs!!!! There is still time to apply for the “Des Moines County Entrepreneur Competition.” A total of $8,000 in cash and other business assistance will be awarded to the winning businesses. Last year Jamie Grabowski, owner of “Pinned It Creations”, won first place.
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She started up her DIY craft business in 2016 with privately scheduled “pallet painting parties.”

The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa

Jamie Grabowski leads Pinterest-inspired workshops. Michelle Kuster counsels people on nutrition. Ann March offers daycare and boarding for dogs.

While these three business owners each provide different services to the Burlington community, they got their businesses off the ground with the help of the Des Moines County Entrepreneur Competition.

The annual competition, an initiative by the Greater Burlington Partnership, aims to “foster new entrepreneurism,” according to the 2018 official rules.

Anyone with a “new, independent, for-profit venture in the seed or start-up stages in Des Moines County” can apply for the competition until Feb. 8. Registration opened on Jan. 2.

Participating entrepreneurs will meet with a panel of judges through several stages of the business plan process.
A total of $8,000 in cash and other business assistance will be awarded to the winning businesses.

Grabowski, owner of Pinned It Creations, won first place in the 2017 contest. She started up her DIY craft business in August 2016 with privately scheduled “pallet painting parties.”

When that quickly gained momentum, Grabowski entered the entrepreneur competition, which helped her open a physical store in July. She said the judges challenged her and helped her set goals.

“It’s nice to have that support,” Grabowski said. “And even after the competition I meet up with [the judges] quarterly to help me succeed past the contest.”

The Greater Burlington Partnership awarded Grabowski $5,000, a $2,000 marketing package, a 2017 Greater Burlington Partnership membership and a $100 a month allowance for a year.

“So winning the contest and getting the award actually is the only reason I have the business downtown,” Grabowski said. “It helped me fast track into a brick and mortar store.”

Michelle Kuster, owner of Food Freedom, won the second place award and a $2,000 grant in 2017. She said the competition offers people without business degrees feedback from professionals.

“I learned how to do what I do with clients in college, but I did not learn anything about business,” said Kuster.

“So in order to feel I could be successful in owning my own business I had to learn about business.”
Kuster said she learned how to write a feasible business plan that she continually refers back to after Food Freedom opened in April 2017.

March, owner of Bark and Play Daycare and Suites, agreed, saying the competition not only gave her money, but the education to grow her dream business. She earned second place, and a $3,500 grant, in the 2015 competition.

Coming from the healthcare field, March said she gained a forward thinking attitude about her finances, rather than worrying about her current issues.

Business plans will be judged on concept, economic impact, personal qualifications, ability to adapt, feasibility and presentation.

Entrepreneurs interested in participating must have completed a business plan course, such as Southeastern Community College “Writing a Winning Business Plan”, Biz Start or FastTrac within the last three years.

Those interested in participating in the competition can download a registration form at or pick up a paper copy at the Greater Burlington Partnership Office at 610 N. 4th St., Suite 200.

Prior to registering for the competition, consult with Janine Clover at the small business development center (319-208-5381) or Jeremy Hess, the competition administrator (319-752-6365).

“There’s really nothing to lose,” said Kuster. “If someone has an idea the competition is a great way to get feedback on anything that might need to be tweaked in order for your business to work. The judges have a lot of good advice.”

Competition winners will be announced at the Greater Burlington Partnership annual Small Business Breakfast on May 11.

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