To prepare for the competition, enrollees participated in a five-month training course in which they received technical assistance, access to entrepreneurial resources, and training courses on how to start a small business in webinars and at the Central Library in Jamaica, Queens.
Out of about 230 original enrollees, 42 teams submitted business plans by March 1 to a panel of judges from the Citi Foundation, which sponsored the competition for the sixth year in a row.
From the pool of nine finalists, the judges will choose three winners and award $10,000 to each at the Queens Taste 2012 in Citi Field's Caesar's Club.
Franklin Mora, director of business services at QEDC, said at last week's event that this year's competition was different from previous years in a few ways, including a rolling admission, allowing people to enroll at any stage in the five months.
“The way we provided the service opened it up to a larger audience,” he said, adding that the number of enrollees this year surpassed the QEDC's goal.
This was possible because a full course was given each month, so teams could enroll in January, or take the course a number of times to refresh. The introduction of webinar training made it easier for teams to enroll as well, because they could watch the course online on their time, Mora said.
“We've helped them better define their competitive edge, better identify their target audience, and clearly communicate their business so they can keep growing,” he said of the competition.
Teams competed in three categories: food-based, innovative business, and social enterprise.
In the food-based business category, the winners are Little Miss Dumpling; Soraya Sobreidad's “FIERCE” Cooking Show; and Itizi Gourmet Ice Cream Truck.
The innovative business category involved a new or better product, providing a service to an under-served market, a new distribution channel, an integrated service or product, or a solution to a problem, Mora said.
The finalists in this category are a label-kit company Addicks Enterprises; LetWaterFall, a 3-D printing service provider and manufacturer; and Optimistic Crafts, a craft store that offers classes, supplies and hand-crafted items.
The social enterprise category involved for-profit businesses that also have a social benefit, creating a double bottom line.
The finalists are Math Makes All Things Happen (M.A.T.H.), which produces instructional math DVD's for inner city students; Better Speech Now, which provides accent-reduction services; and Cute Brands Inc., a cause-oriented brand licensing and management company.
Mora said he is impressed by the diverse group of people who submit business plans every year, which is fueled in part by the borough of Queens and the wide range of individuals who are out of work due to the economy but maintain the bravery to start their own business.
“It's nice to see a person go from freelancing and just doing their business to 'now I have more clients so I have to hire staff,' to 'now I have enough staff and clients that I open up my own storefront space,'” Mora said.
“You've got to give it up to some of these people,” he added. “To start a business you have to be fearless, you have to go for it.”
Liz Schwartz, co-founder of Better Speech Now, said being a finalist is a pleasant surprise, but that the course was worth it whether or not her business wins.
“For a moment I was kind of in shock,” Schwartz said on the morning after the finalists were announced. “We worked very, very hard on this business plan and devoted enormous amounts of time and energy to it, so it was very gratifying.”
Schwartz said she first heard of the QEDC at the Queens Public Library, and learned of the competition by attending some of the organization's meetings.
“We've gotten a lot of support and help from them along the way,” she said of the QEDC. “We feel that even if we're not the winners, it was still worth it because we learned so much.”