Old Brooklyn pitch competition winners aim to fill empty storefronts

Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation (OBCDC) recently hosted a business plan competition in an effort to fill vacant storefronts with viable new businesses. The competition offered applicants the opportunity to win training and grant funding they could use to launch new ventures.

Ten finalists were chosen from more than 30 applicants, says Jeff Verespej, executive director of the OBCDC. “It’s been an incredibly exciting time the last couple of months in Old Brooklyn," he says.

The 10 finalists then went on to receive Small Enterprise Education Development (SEED) training from ECDI and met with OBCDC staff to discuss possible locations for their businesses. “For me it was really important to have the finalist pool to have the education piece,” says Verespej. “I didn’t want a competition where 30 people threw their hats in the ring and one business gets a check. All of the participants praised the education component. They found the training to be comprehensive and in-depth.”
 
One of the winners found the educational component particularly helpful. “The ECDI class was a good refresher course from college,” says Jim Conti of Cleveland Jam, which makes jams from local beer and wines. “It touched on some of the technical parts of the business such as licenses, permits, web traffic and sourced information that was all helpful for any small business.”
 
Nine of the companies made it through the training and went on to give four-minute business plan pitches to an audience and a panel of judges at the MetroHealth Old Brooklyn Health Center last week.
 
Three companies were chosen to receive grant funding through ECDI, which received a $30,000 grant from a fund seeded by Huntington Bank at the Ohio Capital Income Corporation to help Cleveland-area cities with their economic development efforts. In addition to Cleveland Jam, the other two winners are Jason Minter of Connie’s Affogato, which pours espresso over locally-made ice cream and sells it via bicycle, and JAC Creative, a design and marketing firm.
 
“We’re going to be able to help these businesses make their dreams a reality,” says Verespej. The winners will receive a portion of the grant money, one-on-one assistance finding a location in Old Brooklyn, additional financial incentives and training.
 
“Winning the competition has been really exciting,” says Mike Caparanis of JAC Creative. “We set aside a lot of time to construct the business plan and our presentation, and it’s nice to see our hard work paid off. It's also really empowering to have the support of the city and our neighborhood. Our next step is to use our grant funds to establish a creative studio in Old Brooklyn by the end of year.”
 
While the three were chosen as the winners of the competition, Verespej says he hopes the other six companies will also open in Old Brooklyn. “We’re going to work with all of them,” he says. “The goal is to open nine businesses in Old Brooklyn. I am confident we’re going to have more than three success stories from this program.”

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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