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Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center at SIUE

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School of Business

East St. Louis Initiative

September 9, 2016

SIUE Alum Wins East St. Louis Initiative’s First Pitch Contest

9 September 2016, 10:30 AM
Desserts Out The Jar and More founder and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville alum Yashica McKinney earned first place in the first regional business plan pitch competition hosted by the
East St. Louis Initiative (ESLI). Meanwhile, two Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center clients finished in the top three.  

Formed in 2016, the Initiative engages local entrepreneurs from East St. Louis with Washington University St. Louis student teams to make micro-enterprises sustainable. On Friday, Aug. 26, entrepreneurs competed before a panel of judges in the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Washington University. Within a two-minute time limit, each entrepreneur shared his or her idea as well as the financial plan for funding the business.

mckinney-yashicaMcKinney, an East St. Louis native, earned a bachelor’s in kinesiology and health education in 2012 from the SIUE School of Education, Health and Human Behavior. She appreciated the collaboration and support of her alma mater in the experience. McKinney won a free four-month consultancy from ESLI, three months of free office space at The Biz Spot, a business cultivation center in St. Louis, and $200 cash.

Desserts Out The Jar offers home style desserts to enjoy at home or on-the-go. Their mission is to create unforgettably sweet experiences. Desserts Out The Jar is based in St. Louis and emphasizes individually crafted, home style gourmet desserts, conveniently packaged in authentic, traditional style Mason jars, to lock in freshness and flavor.

SBDC client David Southerland, owner of Dave’s Auto Repair in Cahokia, took second place for his plan to add fuel cell installation to his business. Fuel cell vehicles use hydrogen gas to power an electric motor. Unlike conventional vehicles that run on gasoline or diesel, fuel cell cars and trucks combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, which runs the motor. Southerland said the pitch contest’s $100 cash prize and three months of office space at The Biz Spot – a small business incubator in downtown St. Louis – will propel his new company’s initiative forward.

SBDC client Brandon Walker, founder of Positive & Productive Innovations, a Belleville-based energy efficiency consulting firm, took third place. Walker also received a $100 cash prize.

Five regional business counseling and support organizations collectively funded the Initiative’s first business pitch contest: IL Metro East SBDC, PNC Foundation, The Biz Spot, The Mission Center and Balsa Foundation.

Jo Ann DiMaggio May, interim director of the IL Metro East SBDC, said the organizations also hosted two informational sessions in August to assist competitors in preparing their pitches.

 “I am truly impressed with the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of the participants who engaged in our first East St. Louis Initiative pitch competition,” said DiMaggio May. “The Illinois Metro East SBDC is proud to be part of this valuable initiative.”

A panel of four judges provided feedback to competitors at the event. Washington University Faculty Adviser Chris Miller, founder and CEO of The Mission Center L3C, served as one of the judges. A lifelong Metro East resident and former community organizer in and around East St. Louis, Miller said it was exciting to see impressive entrepreneurs emerge from Southwestern Illinois.

The Metro East SBDC assists entrepreneurs and existing businesses located in the nine-county Metro East region of Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe and Randolph. It is a service to the community supported, in part, by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

By aiding entrepreneurs and companies in defining their path to success, the SBDC Network positively impacts Southwestern Illinois by strengthening the business community, creating and retaining jobs and encouraging capital investment. It enhances the region’s economic interests by providing one-stop assistance to individuals by means of counseling, training, research and advocacy for new ventures and existing small businesses. When appropriate, the Metro East 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, contact the Metro East SBDC at (618) 650-2929 or

Photo: Desserts Out the Jar owner Yashica McKinney.

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