Denisha Jones sweetened Hy-Vee’s OpportUNITY Inclusive Business Summit and pitch competition this week with her ready-to-bake cobblers. Her pitch (and peaches) secured the $30,000 grand prize.
“Every time Thanksgiving comes around, I always crave my grandmother’s cobbler. During the pandemic, I was unsuccessful in finding a cobbler as good as my grandmother’s, so I went on a trial run of making cobblers,” said Jones, the founder of Sweet Peaches Cobblers — a family-run business out of Blue Springs, Missouri, that offers frozen, homemade cobblers. “Winning shows that hard work really pays off, and I’m ready to keep grinding.”
More than 250 people gathered at Arrowhead Stadium Tuesday for Hy-Vee’s OpportUNITY Inclusive Business Summit and pitch competition. The event was a free professional development conference focused on providing resources to minority- and women-owned businesses across the greater Kansas City and surrounding states.
“This event has been amazing because not only did we get to pitch and present to potential partners, but learning from the panelists and different vendors here has been very valuable,” Jones said — adding that she is planning on signing up for a Supplier Diversity course at Metropolitan Community College after speaking with representatives at Tuesday’s event.
Click here to read more about Supplier Diversity efforts at Metropolitan Community College.
Hy-Vee awarded a total of $50,000 to the 15 pitch finalists who were selected out of more than 75 applicants. Jones plans to use her grand prize to grow the Sweet Peaches Cobblers team and expand its retail and restaurant partnerships. Their products are currently sold in 27 stores in the region, she noted.
“We are looking to hire a co-packer,” Jones said. “A co-packer will allow Sweet Peaches Cobblers to grow tremendously. Not only will it allow us to keep our staff that’s already employed, but we will also be able to hire other staff.”
The pitch competition featured three categories: technology and innovation; food and beverage; and health, wellness and beauty. Along with a grand prize winner, one founder from each category was selected to win $5,000.
Technology and innovation
Aiming to be the “Apple of the pet tech industry,” Interplay took home the $5,000 prize in Hy-Vee’s innovation and technology category. Jonaie Johnson, founder and CEO, recently launched a Kickstarter for Interplay’s premier product, the PlayTach — a dog crate attachment that allows a pet parent to virtually dispense food and water; see and talk to their dog; and open and close the crate through a smartphone app.
“Any funding received will go towards manufacturing to cover our tooling cost,” Johnson said. “Since we’re looking to do injection molding, legal fees to continue the pursuit of our utility patent, along with software development to continue to build it out and get the production-run ready version of the interplay apps, this includes the mobile and iOS application.”
Through Kickstarter, the Interplay team working to raise $10,000 in 35 days. As of Wednesday, Interplay had raised more than $6,000 with 13 days left.
Interplay is one of Startland News’ Startups to Watch in 2022. Click here to read more.
Food and beverage
Ophelia’s Blue Vine Farm, an urban farm in the 18th and Vine District that strives to make fresh herbs accessible to everyone in the KC metro area, won the $5,000 prize in the food and beverage category. Founder Mike Rollen said they plan to use the money toward machinery to help with packaging.
“We win by picking up more stores and doing less volumes, but that only makes sense with automation,” he added.
Beauty, health and wellness
Savvy Salon KC — a hair salon chain that specializes in curly- and coily-textured hair and creating sustainable career opportunities for women of color — received $5,000 in the health, wellness, and beauty category.
The salon, which hires, trains, and develops stylists, currently has three locations in the Kansas City area. It offers clients a membership program that allows them to pay a monthly fee to receive unlimited salon services, as well as discounts on its all-natural hair product line, said Lenora Leathers, who co-founded the Savvy Salon with her husband, Rickey.
“We will increase our product sales,” Leathers said. “We will offer our products online and in local stores. We will also increase in revenue by improving and expanding our membership offering, looking to serve 200 more members. We will create more jobs — from five to seven new hairstylists and customer service team members.”
Hy-Vee awarded a surprise $1,000 to the following five pitchers:
Cafe Cà Phê, Jackie Nguyen, Kansas City, Missouri — Cafe Cà Phê is KC’s first Vietnamese coffee shop with a new brick-and-mortar location in Columbus Park. While serving traditional Vietnamese-style coffee, its leaders hope to amply the Asian and Asian American narrative.
Sharing Solace, Crystal Webster, Olathe, Kansas — Sharing Solace helps those grieving through technology-elevated gifts that can be passed along as a sign of solidarity and support.
Supplemental Education, Cassandra Bruington, Kansas City, Missouri — Supplemental Education is an online tutoring program that promotes academic, social and emotional growth. Its WebApp offers 1-on-1 virtual tutoring for children in grades K-12.
The Good Dog Brand, Alyson Fisher; Country Club, Missouri — The Good Dog Bone, its flagship product, is an innovation on standard marrow bones for dogs. The Good Dog Brand extracts blood from the bone and dehydrates the skin while leaving the marrow intact, without the mess.
Tre’s Squeeze, Tre Glasper, Manhattan, Kansas — Tre’s Squeeze is an all-natural lemonade brand created by a 9-year-old entrepreneur that uses quality ingredients and freshly-squeezed lemons.
The other six finalists included:
Cap Creation, Rashawnda Wright, Overland Park, Kansas — Grad Cap Remix is a three-piece, graduation cap insert that allows the traditional graduation cap to fit students with curly and textured hair.
Js MakeUp Artistry, Jessica Andrews, Junction City, Kansas — Js MakeUp Artistry provides education along with their makeup products. Clients can scan QR codes on the products to get step-by-step tutorials.
Natural High Wellness Center & Spa, Angel Canady, Leawood, Kansas — Natural High Wellness Center & Spa offers services like sauna and massage therapy, detox body wraps, facials, foot baths, and colon hydrotherapy to help clients naturally heal and detox their bodies.
SEG Media Collective, Sheila Ellis-Glasper, Manhattan, Kansas — SEG Media Collective is a woman and minority-owned creative marketing agency focused on social media engagement and achieving results for clients. It utilizes data and cultural insights to differentiate its agency from competitors.
Smart Cookies Bakery, Shari Weyrauch, Overland Park, Kansas — Smart Cookies is a specialty boutique bakery that specializes in from-scratch cookies and candies that are upscale old-fashioned treats sprinkled with their signature smart attitude.
Yes! Athletics, Deb North; Topeka, Kansas — Yes! Athletics was the first to market with a shoe made specifically for female wrestlers. Their shoes are made in women’s sizes, and the company works to release styles and colorways that are appealing to women.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.