HarborOne Bank Holds their First Exclusively Rhode Island Small Business Pitch Contest

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"It felt like a gift from the universe,” begins Jennifer Beauregard when she reflects on winning the Small Business Pitch Contest in 2019. She is the owner of SanoBe Superfoods, which produces a variety of healthy nut butters that can be found on the shelves of local cafes, specialty shops, and Dave’s Marketplaces. At the time she entered the contest, Beauregard was on the verge of going out of business: “I grew too fast,” she admits, and had spent the last two months figuring out her future if she had to shutter SanoBe. “The Pitch Contest was my ‘last-ditch effort’ at survival.”

The Small Business Pitch Contest is hosted by HarborOne Bank, a network of savings banks dedicated to entrepreneurial endeavors, including their classes in small business, financial literacy, and personal enrichment through HarborOneU. While technically headquartered in Massachusetts, their network stretches across Rhode Island, with multiple branches and a commercial loan office in Providence. This year, they are hosting the first-ever installment of the annual contest that will be held exclusively in RI – and Providence Media is excited to be their media partner.

The contest awards prize money to a local entrepreneur so that they can invest in, develop, and grow their business; it is specifically aimed at start-ups or existing small businesses looking to launch or expand a product or service. Pre-requisites to apply also include being located in Rhode Island and completing a Financial Summary. Starting July 1, interested entrepreneurs may begin the application process, which contains practical inquiries into the business as well as more specific ones regarding how prize money would be invested, challenges faced during the pandemic, and advice entrants would give others going through similar struggles. Following the August 31 deadline, a selection committee will screen the entries to pick a top eight, who will be notified and asked to present in front of a panel of business experts on September 28. Contestants will be judged on presentation, marketing and sales strategy, and financials – and they’ll only have five minutes for their pitch. Finally, a winner will be selected to receive $10,000 to launch or grow their dreams.

Beauregard remembers presentation day: Armed with a passion for her product and desire to learn from like-minded people, she pitched her goals for SanoBe Superfoods to the panel. “I wasn’t expecting to win,” she says with a laugh, but win she did. “Because of that prize money, I was able to stay in business, keep my employees, and even look for a larger and more efficient space in which to manufacture additional products,” explains Beauregard, who had been operating out of Warren kitchen incubator Hope & Main. “It was truly a godsend!”

Last year, HarborOne awarded two prizes totaling $15,000; one went to Mary and Nada Lattouf of Lulu Green Café Bakery Juice Bar, a plant-based eatery and juicery in South Boston, while the other went to Widline Pyrame of Fusion Dolls, creator of multicultural baby dolls and accessories in Brockton. The choice to honor two entrepreneurs not only stemmed from the high caliber of applicants, but also that unprecedented times called for unprecedented action: “Due to the pandemic, small businesses need and deserve our investment more than ever,” said Kevin Brower, one of the contest judges and VP Small Business Team Leader at HarborOne. “It is rewarding to be able to recognize the important contributions these small businesses are making in the communities in which we live and work.”

While the financial impact of HarborOne Bank’s investment cannot be understated, Beauregard points out that the experience goes beyond the money. “I felt reconnected and re-energized to persevere and forge ahead, regardless of the outcome of the pitch contest,” she says, detailing the sense of camaraderie between the entrepreneurs that had come to present. “And then, when the bank representatives and judges spoke to us, I felt all the more grateful because it was so clear to me that they devoted their time to us because they wanted to see us succeed. They were genuinely interested and inquisitive about each and every one of us.”

As Beauregard enters her fifth year of business this month, she strongly encourages any new and growing entrepreneur to take their chances on as many of these kinds of contests as they can: “If you’re not meant to win,” she says, “you’re meant to grow into someone who can win.”

If you’re a small business owner in Rhode Island, visit online to apply starting July 1. If you have any questions, please email info@harboroneu.com.

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