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Metro East Start-Up Challenge winners announced, Highland Emporium takes top prize


2022 Metro East Start-Up Challenge winners paused for a photo with Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois (LCSWIL) representatives following their presentations at the November board meeting. From left: LCSWIL Chairman and President Gary Hoelscher, RedBox+ of St. Louis Metro East Founders Tharon and Rachel Sperry, LCSWIL Executive Director Kyle Anderson, JewelRide LLC Owner Tapiwa Mupereki, Godspeed Transportation Solutions Founder Joseph Phillips, Highland Emporium Owner Carol Eckhoff, SIUE School of Business Dean Dr. Timothy Schoenecker, IL SBDC for the Metro East Director Jo Ann DiMaggio May and SIUE Chancellor Dr. James Minor. (Photo by Melissa Crockett Meske/Illinois Business Journal)

The Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for the Metro East at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville announced the winners of its 9th Annual Metro East Startup Challenge (MESC) in a presentation ceremony at the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois board of directors meeting in November.

The top four teams presented their winning business concepts to the LCSWIL board of directors which includes more than 200 leaders in business, industry, education, government and labor from throughout Southwestern Illinois.   

The 2022 business plan competition had attracted over 39 entrepreneurs to compete for a $25,000 prize package.   

Taking top honors was Highland Emporium in Highland, with the first-place prize of $10,000. Owned by Carol Eckhoff, Highland Emporium is a retail store that provides a locale for multiple small businesses that could not otherwise afford a brick-and-mortar presence. 

Godspeed Transportation Solutions, also located in Highland and founded by Joseph Phillips, received the second-place prize of $6,000. The company offers innovative sensor systems that reduce catastrophic risks of bridge hits and increase the safety and efficiency of car hauling. 

JewelRide LLC, of Edwardsville, was awarded $4,000 for its third-place finish. Owner Tapiwa Mupereki showcased JewelRide as a healthcare mobility company with a focus on providing non-emergency medical transportation to increase access to healthcare for all. 

RedBox+ of St. Louis Metro East founders Rachel and Tharon Sperry, plan to grow their dumpster business territory with the $2,500 fourth-place prize the Swansea-based company was awarded.   

“We are impressed by the large number of superior quality concepts brought forth by the participants,” said Jo Ann DiMaggio May, director of the IL SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE. “It made the evaluation process and final decision on awarding the prize money extremely difficult for all of our reviewers and judges.” 

Winners will also receive in-kind support from Carol Sparks with Sparks Law, of Troy, and accounting services from Kerber, Eck & Braeckel, LLP, of Edwardsville, to help form their businesses and manage start-up expenses. Other in-kind services include website design assistance from Codd Interactive, of Edwardsville, cybersecurity/IT services from Belleville’s Global Enterprise Services, and co-working space for a set period of time at The Lodge in Edwardsville. 

Two additional prizes were also awarded as a part of the 2022 Metro East Start-Up Challenge. They included the MESC 2022 Woman, Minority, or Veteran Business of the Year, and the MESC 2022 Rural Business of the Year. Each of these winners was awarded $1,500.

Desiray Allen of The Golden Bone Day Spa took home the Woman and Minority Business of the Year award. Joshua Douglas and David Huniak, of Troy, were named Veteran Business of the Year for their company, Earth Candy, which creates and manufactures unique and delicious acidified items: “think pickles but way cooler.”

May and SBDC Business Specialist Marti Wieland were elated with the overall participation in the Challenge and the effort the applicants put into their business ideas and presentations. They look forward to continued community involvement for next year’s Challenge as the MESC celebrates 10 years.  

 “Our goal is to continue to increase the awareness and reach of the Start-up Challenge’s vast opportunities,” May said. “The Challenge is becoming a recognized fixture in the region’s entrepreneurial community, and the Illinois SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE looks forward to its continued growth and success.”   

The IL SBDC for the Metro East organizes and manages the competition with the support of the SIUE School of Business, as well as from other business and economic development partners throughout its nine-county service area.   

Other finalists in the 2022 MESC included: 

  • Charlie Rae, based in Edwardsville: an online children’s boutique where the kid’s clothes look good enough that even mom and dad would want to wear them. 
  • EDURain, based in Edwardsville: a college student-centered platform that assists with the housing search. 
  • Toast and Table, out of Belleville: an inspirational kitchen supply store to keep every home chef cooking their best.

The Challenge is made possible through tremendous regional support. Sponsors include the SIUE School of Business, the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, Growth Corp, Anders CPA & Advisors, PNC Bank, Madison County Economic Development, the City of O’Fallon, Illinois, Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program, the City of Edwardsville, Town and Country Bank (Edwardsville and Fairview Heights locations), City of Highland, Carrollton Bank, St. Clair County Economic Development, the City of Alton, Regions Bank, FCB Banks, Monroe County Economic Development Corporation, and University Park at SIUE. 

The Illinois SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE and East St. Louis assists start-up ventures like these, as well as existing businesses headquartered in the nine-county region of southwestern Illinois, including Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe and Randolph counties. It is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Illinois Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and SIUE, as a service to Illinois small businesses. 

To learn more about the SBDC, contact the IL SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE at (618) 650-2929.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story also appears in the December 2022 print edition of the Illinois Business Journal.)

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