Sam’s Club and SCORE, the business mentoring organization, are on the hunt for 102 small businesses as part of their annual Small Business Championship.
Susan Kohler, senior manager at the Walmart Foundation, said this is the third year for the program and the ante has been upped in 2016 with the grand champion to receive $25,000 when the program ends in September.
Kohler said the Walmart Foundation provided the program funding with a $600,000 corporate grant through Sam’s Club to the SCORE Foundation. She said there will be two preliminary champions chosen from each state for 102 overall state winners.
“Each state winner will receive a $1,000 Sam’s Club gift card and an all expense paid trip to one of the regional SCORE conferences this year. They also receive mentoring throughout the year and one of those companies will be crowned the grand champion in September at the SCORE Gala in Washington, D.C. The grand prize is $25,000,” Kohler said.
Kohler said Sam’s Club is part of the larger SCORE initiative because small businesses are the backbone of local economies and they have always been important to Sam’s Club whose founder Sam Walton often said he started the Club to serve small businesses.
“One of the best things about this program is that these small businesses around the country will have the benefit of professional mentoring and public relations help which is vital to a small company whose owners are often too busy running the company to focus on growing the business,” Kohler said.
SCORE Foundation Vice President Resa Kierstein told Talk Business & Politics that the criteria used to determine the 102 winners relates to a company’s efforts and lack of resources to grow on its own. For instance she said two years ago, a small bakery business in Louisiana needed a new oven before they could expand and a laptop to help them track their sales.
“Winning the $1,000 Sam’s Club gift card helped them bridge those gaps and the mentoring they get along the way better positioned this company for growth, which a core focus of SCORE,” she added.
To date, Kierstein said roughly 300 applicants have applied and there are still two more days until the Friday (Feb. 12) midnight deadline. Small businesses are encouraged to apply online.
Lindy Owen of Bentonville was one of the two Arkansas winners last year. Owen runs Simply Divine Catering, two food trucks as well as a cafe’ on the campus of NorthWest Arkansas Community College.
“Last year I took a few minutes and signed up online in hopes of getting my business some exposure. Simply Devine has my baby for the past two years and I continue to try and grow that catering business in addition to a new business I started with the help of my SCORE mentors last year,” Owen said.
While attending the SCORE regional conference in Austin, Texas, last year as a state winner, Owen said she outlined an idea she had with her mentors and others entrepreneurs for candied bacon. Within a few minutes, Owen said she had the confidence and help she needed to launch Sugar Hog, a sugary confection made with bacon.
“My mentors encouraged me get the Sugar Hogs logo trademarked and start running with this product. I am so glad I did that because one of my competitors in the region began offering a knock-off version of my candied bacon. I was hurt at first, but that just encouraged me to go after more flavors and expand the products appeal. I now have candied bacon in 20 different flavors. We also cook it in a rose configuration and sell the candied bacon roses by the dozen as a specialty item. I know have the trademark on this product thanks to my SCORE mentors,” Owen said.
After more than 12 years working as a manager at J.B. Hunt Transport and armed with a political science degree and Arkansas teaching certificate, Owen said she’s most happy when cooking and serving food to others.
Owen said she’s on the cusp of growing her overall catering business which she does out of the grilling kitchen storefront she runs at NWACC. She provides lunches to four private schools in the area, serves at weddings and other corporate catering events. This spring she will have a food truck in downtown Bentonville and a second food truck will provide curbside dining in Cave Springs.