Rising Tide’s Start Something Challenge Announces Winners

The 2016 Start Something Challenge – photo credit Imara Moore Photography


On Thursday, July 28, Rising Tide Capital’s 5th Annual Start Something Challenge crowned its top three entrepreneurs after a six week contest culminating in a pitch competition before of a standing room only crowd at St. Peter’s University.

From the original 109 competitors, ten finalists pitched their businesses to a panel of judges in the hopes of winning the $10,000 grand prize (or $7500 for second, $5000 for third) awarded as grant funding to grow their businesses. They each delivered a 5 minute pitch followed by 2 minutes of Q & A to a panel of judges who were selected from Rising Tide’s network with careful consideration to diversity of age, experience, gender and ethnicity.

“We also look for a blend of entrepreneurs, and small business experts as well. The idea is to have a well-rounded panel of judges that can bring their experience to the competition. In the past some of our judges have opened doors for some of the entrepreneurs, so this isn’t just about judging, it’s also about creating another layer of building social capital into the Start Something Challenge,” says Rising Tide’s Director of Communications, Esther Fraser.

Start Something Challenge Final Pitch at St. Peter's University

Start Something Challenge Final Pitch at St. Peter’s University – photo credit Imara Moore Photography

Contestants were provided with a list of questions that they had to cover in the pitch, and the judges were asked to judge them on their ability to clearly answer the questions.

Denise Woodard, founder of Vivi’s Life, an allergen-free baby food company, claimed the top honor. Jewelry designer Tina Tang of Iron Strong Jewelry took second prize, and Racquel Clarke of Fit FUNd, an enterprise that connects corporate clients to community fitness classes, finished out the top three.

The Start Something Challenge, however grand in its final task, is comprised of a full six weeks of daily social media marketing and network tapping. “Social media is a legitimizer for small businesses,” begins Fraser.

“Social media isn’t an option for business owners anymore. It’s a necessity. We aren’t in the golden age of advertising anymore where consumers passively watched or listened to ads, or read stories in the newspaper. Consumers want to engage with businesses, they want to have conversations, they want to be heard and they want to feel as if they are a part of the businesses they belong to.”

Denise Woodward, founder of Vivi's Life

Denise Woodward, founder of Vivi’s Life and winner of the 2016 Start Something Challenge photo credit Imara Moore Photography

For many small business owners in their beginning stages, having these conversations with customers can feel self-conscious. “In all my time at Rising Tide Capital, I’ve learned that entrepreneurs are usually very good at doing whatever their business sells,” Fraser tells JCI.

“They usually have a lot of industry knowledge and are experts in their spaces. What they aren’t so good at is talking about what they do. Many of them feel uncomfortable with selling and marketing. Whether it is an email, a social media posting, or a live pitch, we want this competition to be a means for entrepreneurs to get comfortable with talking about their businesses.”

Like so many fans of the Start Something Challenge, Fraser says she is inspired by the entrepreneurs. “I love seeing the kinds of ingenious ideas they are working on, and the kinds of businesses they are building.”

And in the spirit of inspiration, JCI is honored to be introducing our readers to the three finalists and their businesses in our forthcoming Start Something series. Stay tuned – prepare to be impressed.

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Learn more about Rising Tide Capital at risingtidecapital.org.

All photos provided by The Start Something Challenge Facebook page – credit Imara Moore Photography

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Mel Kozakiewicz

is a writer, performer, and professor. She lives in the Heights section of Jersey City and she is a former editor for Jersey City Independent.