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East St. Louis Café of Champions Challenge increases prize money

Caterers and restaurant entrepreneurs are invited to showcase their talents in the 2021 East St. Louis Café of Champions Challenge, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s first food industry business plan competition.

The winning caterer or restauranteur receives the opportunity to operate his or her food business on the SIUE East St. Louis Higher Education Campus for students and the community to enjoy.

The competition is organized by SIUE East St. Louis Higher Education Campus and the Illinois Small Business Development Center for the Metro East at SIUE. The purpose of the Challenge is to identify, encourage and support entrepreneurs and business in East St. Louis.

The winner will receive a $2,000 cash prize, and a one-year rent- and utility-free commercial kitchen/café space on SIUE’s East St. Louis Higher Education Campus. Runner-up and third place finishers will receive $1,500 and $1,000, respectively.

The Challenge is made possible through local support. Sponsors include the East St. Louis Center Foundation, the Illinois SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE, SIUE School of Business, National Development Council and First Bank.

The competition includes three rounds, beginning with a brief questionnaire and executive summary submittal that is open to all applicants who meet the eligibility guidelines. Participants selected for the second round are invited to expand on their entrepreneurial concept by submitting a full business plan. These semifinalists are paired with business professionals who will mentor them throughout the competition and potentially beyond. The three finalists then participate in a taste test judging where a winner is chosen.

The initial entry deadline is Saturday, April 3. Semi-finalists will be announced Monday, April 12. Finalists will be notified on Sunday, May 30. The Challenge will announce its cash prize winners on Friday, June 10.  The winner is expected to begin operation at the SIUE East St. Louis Higher Education Campus on July 1.

For more information on the East St. Louis Café of Champions Challenge or to initiate the application process, visit

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