Applications are now open for season five of Chain Reaction small business competition

The Greater Cleveland Partnership’s (GCP) Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE) announced today, Tuesday, Sept. 13, that it is now accepting applications for the fifth season of Cleveland Chain Reaction—the small business pitch competition that connects entrepreneurs to capital and mentors and creates new businesses in Cleveland neighborhoods to stimulate job growth and prosperity.

Officials made the announcement this morning on FOX 8 News in the Morning’s “Kickin’ it with Kenny.” FreshWater Cleveland is the competition’s digital publication partner. The competition is open to anyone looking to build or grow a business of any kind in a Cleveland neighborhood. Applications can be submitted through Friday, Oct. 14

Chain Reaction past winner Ethan Holmes won in 2017 (130,000 in funding from Cle Foundation) for Holmes Mouthwatering Applesauce. Inspired by Cleveland Hustles, the reality series produced by LeBron James that aired on CNBC in 2016, Cleveland Chain Reaction, in an unrelated effort to continue the support that Cleveland Hustles started, first launched in 2017.

In the previous four seasons (there was no competition in 2020 because of the pandemic), Cleveland Chain Reaction has received more than 400 applications, coached 88 small business semi-finalists, connected winning businesses to nearly $1.7 million in capital, and provided 380 hours of technical assistance.  

“Through Cleveland Chain Reaction, partners in our region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem come together to support and promote small business growth,” COSE executive director and senior vice president of membership development and marketing at GCP Megan E. Kim said in a statement. “Whether a winner, semi-finalist, or applicant, we connect with each business to learn about their specific needs, interests and challenges, so we can connect them to resources, solutions, capital and opportunities.”

The top 20 businesses selected as semi-finalists will participate in a business bootcamp in which business experts and mentors will help the entrepreneurs prepare to pitch a panel of judges at a showcase on Thursday, Dec. 8 and Friday, Dec. 9 during “Kickin’ it with Kenny.”

Three winners will be selected, and the entrepreneurs may use the capital any way they choose to advance their business. The first-place winner will receive $40,000, the second-place winner will receive $20,000, and the third-place winner will receive $10,000.

Judges, local investors, and mentors may also choose to contribute additional capital to the businesses.   

The inaugural season of Cleveland Chain Reaction took place in Slavic Village. Old Brooklyn hosted the 2018 edition, and Collinwood was the 2019 host neighborhood.

In 2021, participants could select any city of Cleveland neighborhood to open their businesses based on their specific real estate needs, industry and target market. Cathy’s Gourmet Ice Cream Sandwiches was awarded the grand prize with a $40,000 grant in the fourth season.

Competitors can again choose any neighborhood in 2022.  For more information on Cleveland Chain Reaction and to apply, click here.

Cleveland Chain Reaction is produced by COSE in collaboration with FOX 8 News in the Morning’s “Kickin’ it with Kenny.” FreshWater Cleveland is the competition’s digital publication partner. Cleveland Chain Reaction is sponsored by MAGNET, Bedrock, KeyBank, and JumpStart.

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.