GREENFIELD — Three local entrepreneurs won a total of $10,000 to invest in their businesses through the “Take the Floor” competition at the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center on Thursday.
The six finalists were divided into the three categories “Social Entrepreneurship”, “Small Business” and “Creative Economy”. Each winner receives a portion of the $10,000 prize to be determined. The winners were Stone Soup Culinary Institute, Distance Detailing and The Rainbow Rack. The event, which features several qualifying rounds, was sponsored by Franklin First Federal Credit Union, Athol Credit Union, Greenfield Savings Bank and the Orange Innovation Center.
Contestants had 10 minutes to pitch their business to the judges and crowd, followed by a question and answer session with the judges. The panel was made up of Ian Vukovich and Mpress Bennu of Greenfield Savings Bank; Raymond Lanza-Weil, president of the nonprofit community loan fund Common Capital; and Hope Ross Gibalbi, executive director of Valley Venture Mentors. At the end of the event, the audience and panelists selected their choice for the winner in each category.
Greenfield Community College Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Max Fripp said Franklin County has entered a “new era of entrepreneurship” and events like Take the Floor can help boost small businesses.
“I’m hoping it becomes something we do a few times a year,” Fripp said. “We build and launch all new types of businesses in Franklin County. … I think there is a need for events like this.”
Wendell resident Kelly Suprenant was selected as the winner in the creative economy category with her Wendell-based business, The Rainbow Rack, which takes old clothes from thrift stores and repurposes them (creative reuse) by adding new designs. She said her business could help fight the waste of the “fast fashion” industry.
“We’re rich in textiles that are everywhere and they go to thrift stores all the time,” Suprenant said. “I keep these things in circulation and use things that are right here.”
Suprenant said he will use his share of the prize money to upgrade his embroidery machine and design software to make his business more efficient.
Speaking after the event, she said her business is “really nimble” and can fit into any niche it needs. She is grateful that the community has shown support for “sustainable business ideas.”
“It’s really overwhelming to feel the support,” she said.
In the small business category, 17-year-old Jason Garcia took home the award for Distance Detailing, a mobile auto detailing business that hopes to be more accommodating to people’s busy schedules.
“My job is basically to help you choose what you want to do with your time,” he said, giving the example of a busy teacher who doesn’t have time to leave work during the day to inspect his car.
He added that he wants to keep prices low because many people can’t afford to have their car detailed.
“Some people don’t have a lot of money to spend or throw away to get their car cleaned,” he said.
Ross Gibalbi said he liked Garcia’s idea, but suggested he not drop his prices too low because the mobile detailing business provides many amenities that people will happily pay for.
“I appreciate that you want to make your services accessible … but if I’m going to pay you to come to my house and detail my car, that’s a premium,” she said. “People pay for the convenience factor, for sure. Don’t sell yourself too short.”
With the prize money, Garcia said he will give his business a boost and continue to work with GCC and Fripp in developing a business model.
“It’s really big. Now I can buy most of the expensive things,” he said of winning the award. “I am very grateful and want to thank GCC and Max for the opportunity.”
Stone Soup Culinary Institute and chef and director Kirsten Levitt won in the social entrepreneurship category. The Stone Soup Culinary Institute, which is training its first group of students in Greenfield, trains people in the basics of cooking, along with the safe handling and serving of food and drink.
“This is a direct response to the lack of services that is here. There is no culinary training for adults in Franklin County,” Levitt said. “We’re going to make an impact on the community here. We want to make sure that the restaurants stay open here because they have qualified staff and by the way the waiting time will be shorter.”
She added that two of the Culinary Institute’s five students are already working in local restaurants.
“We can achieve workforce development, that’s been proven,” Levitt said.
Levitt said the grant will help Stone Soup hire a consultant to explore additional revenue streams in an effort to diversify grant opportunities by “retooling and thinking outside the box.”
“We can have some revenue to have a consultant who understands our mission,” Levitt said. “I can teach you how to hold a knife, but I don’t know everything.”
Chris Larrabee can be reached at [email protected] or 413-930-4081.
An earlier version of this story provided an incorrect prize money amount. The three winners will share the $10,000 prize.