Augustine (left) and Sylvia Emuwa of Dinobi Detergent present at the South Side Pitch competition in October 2019. The married couple's cleaning supplies company won the $5,000 first prize to expand their line of products and improve their website. Credit: Provided

HYDE PARK — Small businesses from around the South Side will compete for an $8,000 grand prize in a virtual pitch competition this week, hosted by a local organization advocating for low-income business owners.

Six entrepreneurs will give their business pitches and answer questions from judges in the eighth annual South Side Pitch, to be held virtually at 6 p.m. Thursday. The winner receives $8,000, while second place receives $7,000 and third place receives $5,000 to help support their businesses.

Alongside the panel of four judges, audience members’ votes will help determine the winning business — and the audience’s top choice will get $1,000 regardless of the overall results. Attendees must register through Eventbrite.

“We’re thinking about businesses’ impact, vision, the creativity embedded in the business, the South Side connection and the showmanship,” said Beth Kregor, director of the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship based at University of Chicago. “It all comes down to whether it’s a great pitch.”

The finalists, selected from 25 semi-finalists and 100 applicants, are:

  • Blossom Girls Network, a North Kenwood-based business offering “period starter kits” with sanitary products, educational resources and support groups for girls.
  • D. Jones Construction, a minority woman-owned construction company in Grand Crossing specializing in residential renovations and storefront buildouts.
  • Last Lap Cornerstore, a runners’ supply store that opened last September in a shipping container at Boxville, 330 E. 51st St. in Washington Park.
  • Piggyback Network, a Beverly-based transportation service focused on shuttling youth along shared routes to schools, parks, daycares, enrichment programs and other activities.
  • Sista Afya Community Mental Wellness, a mental health resource centering Black women that offers free and reduced-cost therapy out of its South Shore clinic.
  • Trading Races, a Bronzeville-based company that created a card game to teach Black history and encourage conversations about race.

The entrepreneurship clinic, which is hosting Thursday’s event, provides resources and free legal assistance to small businesses in and around Chicago. Staffers developed Shop in Place to help local businesses transition online early in the coronavirus pandemic.

They’ve also seen some “long-sought, long-fought successes” over the last year — namely in speeding up the approval process for businesses to place signs. Critics derided the city’s old rules as overzealous and “erratically enforced.”

“We look out for the laws that are making it difficult for [entrepreneurs] to start and grow … [and] let them know when it’s time to rally and speak the truth to the government about what businesses need to thrive in Chicago,” Kregor said.

The clinic’s year-round work “gets back to the spirit of South Side Pitch: You don’t have to be an investor on the West Coast to be an entrepreneur,” clinic operations manager Erion Malasi said. “You can have an idea and pursue it in Chicago with the community you hope to build.”

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