Julia Allen and Kate Johnson — the founders of LOCALITY, which delivers quarterly subscription boxes of Okanagan goods — held hands as VantageOne Credit Union CEO Glenn Benischek took to the stage to announce the winners of Enterprize Challenge 2018. But as he announced the business that took third place (Steakholder, Richard and Danielle Toperczer), and then second place (Think Tank, Dan Proulx), Allen and Johnson lost hope.
“We let go of each other’s hands,” said Allen. “There were still so many other great participants left.”
And then, after reciting a seemingly endless list of prizes the first place winner would receive, and remarking how the top contestants “blew the judges away with their market research and preparation,” Benischek announced names of the first place winners: Julia Allen and Kate Johnson.
After a quick embrace, their arms were linked all the way to the stage, where they posed for photos, smiling in the spotlight behind an enormous cheque for $3,000 (start-up capital and just one of dozens of prizes worth nearly $35,000 shared by the top three winners).
Earlier in the trade show and awards ceremony, the event held Thursday that culminates six weeks of Dragon’s Den-style presentations, the pair said they’d felt like winners. The competition pushed them to create a solid business plan that will now see them sending subscribers boxes filled with Okanagan-made goods from wines and cider to jams and soaps. The day Allen and Johnson presented their financials in the second and final presentation to judges last week, LOCALITY’s first subscription box went live and within an hour, 15 customers had signed up. Today, they’re sold out.
“We’re looking forward to knocking on doors and putting everything we’ve learned into practice,” said Allen, who thanked all involved in the fourth annual competition, hosted by Community Futures North Okanagan.
Johnson is equally excited about the next steps. “We can’t wait to connect with people, support local and cross-promote local artisans any way we can.”
A number of the 10 finalists showcasing their businesses at the trades show, held in the Kal Room at Okanagan College, were also focused on supporting local: a store offering locally made children’s clothing and goods, a First Nation’s café and gift shop selling the creations of Okanagan Indigenous artists, a line of plus-size active wear created from upcycled clothing sourced at local charity shops.
The third place business, Steakholder, is a platform that allows consumers to directly purchase a portion of ethically raised, grass-fed beef, and see and learn about the pastoral ranches from which their meat is sourced.
Second-place winner Dan Proulx saw a local need for business meeting spaces, and created The Think Tank, which lets organizations pair customizable rooms with equipment, catering, consulting offerings and more.
“To make it to the finals from 26 participants, and then to get second place, the whole process has been amazing,” said Proulx. “I really look forward to the next step, which is probably the hard and the fun part, but now I have this validation from the judges and the community, and that’s huge.”
Leigha Horsfield, general manager, Community Futures North Okanagan, says the chance to start a business with so much of the planning and networking underway gives all participants a leg up in their journey.
“This competition has shown, year after year, that if you have a good idea and you do the hard work to show your idea is viable, you can succeed in this competition, even if you’re not one of the top three winners.”
The Community Futures Enterprize Challenge is presented by VantageOne Credit Union, BDO, Nixon Wenger, Wholesale Grafix, and another nine organizations sponsored the event to make the challenge and its prizes possible, while The Chase Wines sponsored wine at the well-attended trade show and awards event.