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Banner Year for Small Business Competition – $150,000 To Be Awarded

Lynda Steely, Lake County Signs and Banners, after her 2-hour pitch lab session.  Lynda won $8,000 in the start-up business category in 2023

Hands Up Lake County 2024 is accepting applications through May 31, 2024. The nonprofit, 1Team 1Dream, encourages small businesses and startups to apply for the one-of-a-kind competition that offers a “hand up” to those willing to put their ideas and plans to the test.

Since forming the nonprofit, Founders Maryann Schmid and Olga Martin Steele have taken the competition to greater heights, each year raising more funds for competing small businesses that make it through the 3-phase process.

“This is a banner year,” said Schmid. “It’s our 5th, and we’ll be awarding $150,000 in cash prizes to eight competitors.”

The competition—which began during the Pandemic—has awarded $298,000 in cash prizes to 28 local businesses so far. 

After serving as a judge in the initial competition, business owner Monica Rosenthall joined the nonprofit. “Not all applicants will win a cash prize, but there are other benefits, and the businesses can re-apply,” she said. “Many past participants say they learn the importance of a solid business and financial plan and they appreciate the networking opportunities and social media exposure received throughout the process.”

The competition is rigorous, including an application review and selection by the Board, a workshop by a long-time college professor and business consultant Stephen O’Mara, and a mini-competition rated by an independent panel of business-savvy judges who select eight businesses that advance to the final competition. In the final competition, these businesses make onstage presentations before a new panel of independent judges, each a leader in the business community.

“Thinking back to the day that Olga and I decided to launch a business competition, the journey has had its challenges,” Schmid said. “But our efforts have paid off. The greatest reward is to see the growth and successes of the businesses that have been through our competition and process. They are strong and confident.  Some, like Anahi Silva of Party Ideas in Clearlake and Melinda Price of Peace and Plenty Farms in Kelseyville, have been featured in various media outlets, bringing positive attention and an economic boost to our beautiful County. That’s a big part of what this competition is all about,” she said.

Steele agrees. “Fundraising is the competition’s coin of the realm, and we were pleased that the idea struck a chord with pivotal donors who fronted the money to get the ball rolling, namely, Peter and Maryann Schmid and our number one supporter, Clearlake City Manager Alan Flora,” she said.

Initial and major sponsors continue to support the competition. They include the Cities of Lakeport and Clearlake, the County of Lake, The Schmids, Lake County Tribal Health Consortium; Reynolds Systems Inc.; OLYMPIX TEAM Real Estate; Savings Bank of Lake and Mendocino Counties; Community First Credit Union; Foods Etc; the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake; the Blue Wing Saloon & Tallman Hotel; Adventist Health Clear Lake and Schmid Martinez Real Estate. The Founders say many, many other event sponsors, mostly from the local community, also support the competition. 

“When we started, the setting was grim,” Steele said. “As if a 4-year reign of fire amidst a lingering recession wasn’t hard enough, a pandemic brought unexpected challenges to our small business community, shuttering some while others hung on by a thread. Fueled by a sense of urgency, we took a leap of faith.”

“Interest in the competition keeps growing,” said Ben Alexander, who joined the 1Team 1Dream Board in 2021. “I’m often asked what the winning formula is. My advice—challenge yourself by answering questions like: How does my business idea fit our rural economy, and how can I build a strong business that will make it in the hardest of times? And then, take the leap, just as the Founders did when they launched the competition.”

“Since beginning four years ago, we’ve made a few changes,” said Helena Welsh, an inaugural member of the Board. “What hasn’t changed is our pitch—to give a hand up—not a handout; our underlying premise—that small businesses are the backbone of rural economies such as ours; and our vision—to help improve the local economy, a few small businesses at a time.”

Laura Falteisek, the newest member of the Board, has been photographing and admiring the competition for some time. She likens the contest to The Voice, a TV program that develops applicants to be even more successful in their goals. “1Team 1Dream offers applicants free generous support by experts that provide personalized business training and coaching. It even draws in the fans who vote online for their favorite business, awarding $1,000 to that winner,” Falteisek said.

All funds raised support the small business competition, “Hands Up Lake County.” To stay current on the latest and learn more about how the competition works, visit the website, 1team1dream.net, and follow 1Team 1Dream on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok.

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