The Downtown Renton Partnership had an idea: What if we held a contest to nurture small businesses?
Surprising many civic leaders, 67 people came to KCLS’ Renton Library to kick off the first-ever Main Street Entrepreneur Workshop & Pitch Competition.
“This is just a fantastic turnout,” said Renton Mayor Armondo Pavone. “Economic development is the lifeblood of our community; it’s a game-changer.”
The competition was part of KCLS' ongoing commitment to financial and small-business support called Invest in Yourself.
Participants discussed their own small-business dreams, reflecting a wide range of backgrounds and cultural experiences. Food–from catering to ciders–was a popular topic, with some citing grandparents’ special recipes. Other ideas included health, mindfulness, creative pursuits and pets.
For five weeks, workshop attendees learned from volunteer business mentors about entrepreneurial basics, planning, finances, marketing and how to pitch their ideas. Judges whittled a dedicated field of 30 to 19 hopefuls for the Pitch Competition Finale, held April 18 at the Renton Civic Theater.
With grant funding and dreams on the line, finalists pitched their ideas to an enthusiastic crowd of 220 people. Powerpoint presentations included authentic Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, ice-cream sandwiches and Filipino baked goods. One contestant hoped to expand hospital access to a rapid diagnostic test for mushroom poisoning; another wanted to counter pandemic effects and art education cuts with a special crafting space for kids. Citing lost generational knowledge, one man pitched a “digital time capsule” to preserve family legacies.
Applause was particularly rousing for a pitch to locate a wine tasting room in downtown Renton, “for social connections and so we don’t have to drive to Woodinville!”
In the end, there were three $5,000 winners:
Alisha Malcolm won the Start-up/Idea Category for pitching her business, Dog N' Pony, offering an indoor dog park where both humans and dogs can socialize.
Sarah Cabarteja won the Early Category for Down the Ave LLC, a Pacific Northwest-themed card game/website that has already taken off with young adults.
Alina Muratova earned the Established Category prize for Sweet Nothings and More, which creates custom desserts for restaurants.
Mary Wu, owner of Coby Café, won the People’s Choice Award and $1,000.
Jaylen Gilmore, Vice President of Business for Columbia Bank and one of 10 mentors, said the “Dog N’ Pony pitch stuck out to me because she (Malcolm) had a solid plan in place, her pitch was spot on to what the judges were looking for, and I could tell she paid attention to all of the workshop sessions.”
“The dedication and devotion the competitors had to win and grow their ideas was the most inspirational,” Gilmore added.
Shawn Palmer, a business advisor with OneEastside and a mentor who also teaches small-business classes for KCLS, said it was rewarding to “observe the growth and ‘ah-ha’ moments of the individual competitors."
The pitch competition helped build skills for startups and existing businesses alike, Palmer said, adding that the economic development program could be replicated in other communities, with libraries as partners. The Renton Library offered not only technology and resources, but space for building skills, networking and collaboration.
“It was an ideal learning environment,” he said.