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Metro East Start-Up Challenge
Metro East Start-Up Challenge

News - 2022

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 Highland Emporium is Illinois SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE’s 2022 Metro East Start-Up Challenge Winner

(L-R) Tharon Sperry, Rachel Sperry, Tapiwa Mupereki, Joseph Phillips, and Carol Eckhoff. The Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for the Metro East at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville has announced the winners of its 9th Annual Metro East Startup Challenge (MESC). The 2022 business plan competition attracted more than 39 entrepreneurs to compete for a $25,000 prize package.   

Highland Emporium in Highland was awarded the first-place prize of $10,000. Highland Emporium, owned by Carol Eckhoff, is a retail store that provides a locale for multiple small businesses that could not otherwise afford a brick-and-mortar presence. 

Godspeed Transportation Solutions, located in Highland and founded by Joseph Phillips, received the $6,000 second-place prize. The company offers innovative sensor systems that reduce catastrophic risks of bridge hits and increase the safety and efficiency of car hauling. 

JewelRide LLC, of Edwardsville, earned $4,000 for a third-place finish. Owner Tapiwa Mupereki showcased JewelRide as a healthcare mobility company with a focus on providing non-emergency medical transportation to increase access to healthcare for all. 

Rachel and Tharon Sperry, founders of RedBox+ of St. Louis Metro East, plan to grow their dumpster business territory. The Swansea-based company took home the $2,500 fourth-place prize thanks to the generosity of Regions Bank.  

 “We are impressed by the large number of superior quality concepts brought forth by the participants,” said Jo Ann DiMaggio May, director of the IL SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE. “It made the evaluation process and final decision on awarding the prize money extremely difficult for all of our reviewers and judges.” 

The winners will also receive in-kind support from Carol Sparks with Sparks Law, of Troy, and accounting services from Kerber, Eck & Braeckel, LLP, of Edwardsville, to help form their businesses and manage start-up expenses. Other in-kind services include website design assistance from Codd Interactive, of Edwardsville, cybersecurity/IT services from Belleville’s Global Enterprise Services, and co-working space for a set period of time at The Lodge in Edwardsville. 

(L-R) Tharon Sperry, Rachel Sperry, Tapiwa Mupereki, Joseph Phillips, and Carol Eckhoff. For the second year, the competition was open to Fayette and Montgomery Counties. Two additional prizes were awarded, including the MESC 2022 Woman, Minority, or Veteran Business of the Year, and the MESC 2022 Rural Business of the Year, both in the amount of $1,500.  These prizes were funded by the City of O’Fallon and Dietrich Bank, respectively. Desiray Allen of The Golden Bone Day Spa took home the Woman and Minority Business of the Year award. Joshua Douglas and David Huniak, of Troy, were named Veteran Business of the Year for their company, Earth Candy, which creates and manufactures unique and delicious acidified items; think pickles but way cooler. Since the two rural businesses in the final round won first and second place, the Rural Business of the Year prize was awarded to a second entrepreneur from the Woman, Minority or Veteran business category. 

The top four teams presented their winning business concepts before the Leadership Council of Southwestern Illinois (LCSWIL0 board of directors on Friday, Nov. 4. LCSWIL includes more than 200 leaders in business, industry, education, government and labor in southwestern Illinois.  

May and SBDC Business Specialist Marti Wieland are elated with the overall participation in the Challenge and the effort the applicants put into their business ideas and presentations. They look forward to continued community involvement for next year’s Challenge as the MESC celebrates 10 years.  

 “Our goal is to continue to increase the awareness and reach of the Start-up Challenge’s vast opportunities,” May said. “The Challenge is becoming a recognized fixture in the region’s entrepreneurial community, and the Illinois SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE looks forward to its continued growth and success.”   

The IL SBDC for the Metro East organizes and manages the competition with the support of the SIUE School of Business, as well as from other business and economic development partners throughout its nine-county service area.   

Finalists in the 2022 MESC also included: 

  • Charlie Rae, based in Edwardsville: an online children’s boutique where the kid’s clothes look good enough that even mom and dad would want to wear them.
  • EDURain, based in Edwardsville: a college student-centered platform that assists with the housing search
  • Toast and Table, out of Belleville: an inspirational kitchen supply store to keep every home chef cooking their best

The Challenge is made possible through tremendous regional support. Sponsors include the SIUE School of Business, the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, Growth Corp, Anders CPA & Advisors, PNC Bank, Madison County Economic Development, the City of O’Fallon, Illinois, Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program, the City of Edwardsville, Town and Country Bank (Edwardsville and Fairview Heights locations), City of Highland, Carrollton Bank, St. Clair County Economic Development, the City of Alton, Regions Bank, FCB Banks, Monroe County Economic Development Corporation, and University Park at SIUE. 

The Illinois SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE and East St. Louis assists start-up ventures like these, as well as existing businesses headquartered in the nine-county region of southwestern Illinois, including Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe and Randolph counties. It is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Illinois Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and SIUE, as a service to Illinois small businesses. 

By aiding entrepreneurs and companies in defining their path to success, the SBDC network positively impacts the Metro East by strengthening the business community, creating and retaining new jobs and encouraging new investment. The SBDC enhances the region’s economic interests by providing one-stop assistance to individuals by means of advising, training, research and advocacy for new ventures and existing small businesses. When appropriate, the 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 about the SBDC, contact the IL SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE at 618-650-2929. 

Photo: (L-R) Tharon Sperry, Rachel Sperry, Tapiwa Mupereki, Joseph Phillips, and Carol Eckhoff. 

For More Information
Contact the Illinois Small Business
Development Center (SBDC)
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