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At the top of the leaderboard: Metro East Startup Challenge winners announced

Shown at the top left are 2023 Metro East Startup Challenge’s first place Earth Candy owners Joshua Douglas and David Huniak. At the top right are second place Toast + Table owners Stacy Fangmeyer and Amanda Krause. Shown at the bottom left are third place June’s Breakfast + Patio owners Jon & Elizabeth Welzbacher. The fourth place 2023 MESC winner Rose MedSpa & Wellness owner Dr. India Johnson is shown at the bottom right. (Photos courtesy of Illinois SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE)



Illinois SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE announced the winners of its 10th Annual Metro East Startup Challenge The 2023 business plan competition had attracted around 40 entrepreneurs that would compete for a portion of the $28,000 in cash prizes. The competition has furthered its outreach to encompass Fayette and Montgomery Counties now for a third year, with Macoupin County also added with this year’s contest.

Earth Candy of Troy, Ill., was awarded the first-place prize of $10,000. Earth Candy is owned by David Huniak and Joshua Douglas and is a retail operation that creates, manufactures and sells unique acidified foods. 

 Toast and Table, located in O’Fallon, Ill., and founded by Stacey Fangmeyer and Amanda Krause, received the second-place winner’s prize of $6,000. Toast & Table is an inspirational retail kitchen supply store and educational cooking space geared towards the everyday home cook. 

June’s Breakfast + Patio, located in Shiloh, Ill., captured the $4,000 third place prize. Owners are the husband-and-wife duo of Jon and Liz Welzbacher. June’s Breakfast + Patio is an inclusive community-centered venue serving wholesome, modern food, drink, and experiences rooted in Midwestern tradition. 

Rose MedSpa and Wellness took the $2,000 fourth place prize and plans to grow their wellness clinic. Also based out of Troy, Ill., this company was awarded the fourth-place prize thanks to the generosity of Regions Bank. 

The top four teams presented their winning business concepts before the Leadership Council of Southwestern Illinois board of directors on Nov. 3. LCSWIL includes more than 150 leaders in business, industry, education, government, and labor in southwestern Illinois.  

 The winners also receive in-kind support from Carol Sparks, Beckemeier LeMoine Law of Troy, and accounting services from Kerber, Eck & Braeckel, LLP of Edwardsville, to help form their businesses, navigate legal issues and manage start-up expenses. Other in-kind services for the finalists 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. 

“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.”

Four additional prizes were also awarded in the following categories:  MESC 2023 Woman, Minority, Veteran and Rural Business of the Year, all in the amount of $1,500.  These prizes were funded by Bank of Springfield, Justine Petersen, the City of O’Fallon, and Dieterich Bank, respectively.   

 Melissa Bland with HoneyBee Vintage of Alton took home the Woman Business of the Year prize, Dr. Terrance Duncan and MLP Capital Investments was awarded the Minority Business of the Year prize, and Francesca Eales with Hello Wink was awarded the Veteran Business of the Year prize. Since there were no rural businesses in the final round, the Rural Business of the Year prize was awarded to semifinalist Fia Wood Fired Pizza of Dorsey, Ill. 

 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 2023 MESC included: 

  • Maiden Gall of Highland, Ill., a company that will house a salon, boutique and a quaint short-term rental.   
  • Life After Grief, based in Collinsville, Ill., provides grief coaching and support to individuals, families, organizations, and companies, specializing on women as they go through the grieving process due to infertility, pregnancy, or childhood loss. 
  • WBS MedSpa is a hyperbaric oxygen therapy and massage therapy spa located in Alton, Ill.  
  • Stage-N->Go of Edwardsville, Ill., is a furniture staging company that provides collapsible staging furniture for real estate agents and stage production companies in the St. Louis area. 

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. The SBDC team looks forward to continued community involvement for next year’s Challenge as the MESC celebrates 11 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 Challenge is made possible through regional sponsors that include:  The SIUE School of Business, Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, Growth Corp, BMO, Anders CPA & Advisors, Regions Bank, the City of O’Fallon Illinois, Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program, the City of Edwardsville, Heartland Bank and Trust, City of Highland, Carrollton Bank, St. Clair County Economic Development, the City of Alton,  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.

By aiding entrepreneurs and companies in defining their path to success, the SBDC network positively impacts the Metro East by strengthening the business community, creating and retaining new jobs and encouraging new investment. The SBDC enhances the region’s economic interests by providing one-stop assistance to individuals by means of advising, training, research and advocacy for new ventures and existing small businesses. When appropriate, the SBDC strives to affiliate its ties to the region to support the goals and objectives of both the SIUE School of Business and the University at large.

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


This story also appears in the December 2023 print edition of the Illinois Business Journal.


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