Irvington entrepreneur Coretta Owusu won the $10,000 first prize Monday night in the final round of the business plan competition of Jersey City's Rising Tide Capital, a nonprofit organization that empowers entrepreneurs to create and grow small businesses.
Owusu's business, aSuiteStay.com, is an accommodation booking site that gives travelers access to different property types and services in Africa. She will use the prize money from the Start Something Challenge to develop iPhone and Android applications for her travel services and expand a text service that enables properties in Africa that aren't on the Internet to book reservations.
"I did not expect to advance this far into the competition, so winning first place was an unbelievable blessing," Owusu said.
One hundred and seven entrepreneurs from 38 cities and towns throughout New Jersey entered the challenge, with 30 advancing to the semifinals Oct. 23. Ten competed in the business plan pitch competition Monday night.
In second place was West Orange native Nicole Silva, winning $7,500 for DollyMoo, a line of hand-blended skincare products. And Elizabeth Migliore won third place and $5,000 for her company, Jersey City Veggie Burgers, which creates locally sourced, handmade veggie burgers.
"The Start Something Challenge takes people's natural inspiration and creates structure to support it," said Alfa Demmellash, CEO and co-founder of Rising Tide Capital. "As an entrepreneur, you need knowledge, social connections, and, ultimately, financial capital to turn your idea into a successful business."
Robert Weiss, New Jersey market president for JP Morgan Chase, a sponsor of the competition, said the entrepreneurs who competed were each given four minutes to make their pitch to a room full of people.
"It gave them a chance to experience what it is going to be like as a business owner to be put on the spot to talk about your value proposition," Weiss said. "How do you present your product? How are you going to make the product, deliver it and market it? What is your limitation in terms of growth, and how will money facilitate your growth money and put you on path to a higher probability of success?"
Weiss was among several local business leaders who judged the competition, including Ruthie Ackerman, senior program manager for the Tory Burch Foundation, and Carlos Medina, president and CEO of Robinson Aerial Surveys Inc. and president of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.