Holmes Mouthwatering Applesauce takes grand prize in COSE pitch competition

Five startup company owners pitched their businesses to a panel of judges in COSE’s fourth annual Business Pitch Competition last Friday, May 8th for a chance to win $40,000 in prize money to propel their companies forward.

The process started with 108 applicants, which was narrowed down to 13 semi-finalists before the five finalists were chosen. The company founders presented their companies to a panel of four judges.

Ethan Holmes, founder of Holmes Mouthwatering Applesauce, won the grand prize of $20,000. Chris Wentz of Everykey, which makes wristbands that replaces keys and passwords, came in second place with $10,000; Jessica Davis of Rebuilders Xchange won $5,000; and Doug Katz’s Fire Spice Company and Mauri Artz of The Public Tutoring Initiative each received $2,500.

“We had a really good set of finalists,” says Steve Millard, president and executive director of COSE. “Each of the companies that pitched are really in the early stages. We took a look at Ethan and we saw we could really make an impact on some of the goals he wants to accomplish.”

Holmes, who first attended the competition in 2011 with LaunchHouse founder and mentor Dar Caldwell, was thrilled that he won. “It was the first business event I had ever been too and all I had was a business card, but I watched those other businesses on that stage and it made me hungrier,” recalls Holmes. “So I applied every year hoping to be chosen, but it wasn’t until this year that I was given the chance. I beat over 100 businesses and it is truly a surreal feeling to go from just an observer to actually playing on the field.”

Holmes plans to use the prize money to buy inventory and machinery he needs to ramp up production and fulfill recent orders from major grocers. “He has managed to convince the key grocers of Cleveland like Heinen's, Marc's, Zagara's and even Giant Eagle to give his company and his products a chance,” says John Spirk of Nottingham Spirk, one of the judges. “That is a remarkable achievement.”

Spirk says Holmes’ drive is what swayed the judges to choose him. “The thing that impressed the judges, aside from Ethan's overall presentation, was that even at his young age as an entrepreneur he knows what he doesn't know," Spirk says. “He has surrounded himself with seasoned advisors who are guiding him. Many young entrepreneurs are driven by their vision and tend not to seek out the advice of others. Ethan recognized that and it will serve him well as he builds his company.”

Rion Safier, a judge from Rion Safier Accounting, says selecting a winner was tough. “The difference between the five of them was small,” he says. “Any one of them could have won.”

But a few things set Holmes apart from the rest. “He had a pretty well-rounded thought process on his business model,” Safier says. “We thought Ethan had the greatest opportunity to take it to the next level.”

Jennifer Downey of Ambiance, who was also a judge, agrees with Safier. “Ethan gave a great presentation,” she says. “He was well prepared with what his company was all about, and how it’s grown from humble beginnings…. Through the presentation, we were able to look into the future of HMA and Ethan’s plans for growth.  We awarded the top prize to Ethan because we felt that the money would make a huge difference for his plans, and it would give him the opportunity to think bigger.”

The fourth judge was Radhika Reddy of Ariel Ventures

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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