VAST Produce of Waterloo is 2018 Metro East Startup Challenge Winner

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SBDCSouthern Illinois University Edwardsville’s fifth annual Metro East Startup Challenge (MESC), a regional business plan competition for entrepreneurs and startups, announced its three winners today at the Doubletree Hotel in Collinsville with Waterloo-based VAST Produce earning the $10,000 grand prize.

Beastman Tea, LLC, founded by Bradford Eastman, won the $6,000 second place prize. Eli Ball earned the $4,000 third place award for Midway Spark, LLC.

Brothers Benjamin, Jonathan, Tyler, Andrew, William and Dylan Meuth have created a Virtual Aquaponics and Sustainable Growth technology that enables them to grow fish, premium lettuce and herbs year round for St. Louis metro area consumers and restaurants. Their produce is already available at local farmers markets as well as at Soulard Market in St. Louis. The cash award will enable the brothers to invest in the equipment needed to expand and promote their business.

With Beastman Tea, Eastman hopes to promote healthy, naturally flavored green tea products without all of the added chemicals and sugars found in most ready-to-drink beverages. His teas are already available at Green Earth Grocery in Edwardsville and will be available at other outlets in the near future.

Midway Spark, founded by Eli Ball, has created an app for use by zoos and potentially other public venues across the country, allowing the venue to provide up-to-date information for attendees and provide the option to donate through the app. They also offer a zoo the ability to easily update their information about their animals, special events and sponsorship opportunities. 

The top three teams presented their winning business concepts at the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois Board of Directors meeting Friday morning before a live audience of Leadership Council members and invited guests. The member-based organization includes more than 200 leaders in business, industry, education, government, and labor.

Jo Ann DiMaggio May, Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for the Metro East at SIUE director and MESC organizer, along with SBDC Business Specialist Marti Guntren and graduate assistants Adrinè Krikorian and Chelsea Mettler are excited about the amount of participation and hard-work the applicants put into their business ideas and presentations.

“I am humbly impressed by the large number of superior quality concepts brought forth by the participants,” said DiMaggio May. “It made our evaluation process and final decision extremely difficult.

“Our goal is to continue to increase the awareness and reach of the Challenge’s vast opportunities. The Startup Challenge is becoming a recognized fixture in the region’s entrepreneurial community, and the Illinois Metro East SBDC at SIUE looks forward to its continued growth and success.”  The SBDC and East St. Louis organize and manage the competition with support from the SIUE School of Business.

The three winners will also receive in-kind support from Curtis Bailey, Huffman Law and accounting services from Scheffel Boyle to help them form their businesses and manage their start-up expenses.

Finalists in the 2018 Metro East Startup Challenge also included:

  • Hoot Owl Software, Jim and Ryan Sheldon
  • The Senala Group, Veronica Armouti
  • Dry Street Gardens, Elliander Elldridge
  • Core Tactical Advantage Concepts, Chuck Cadell
  • Visionary Tech Solutions, Shawn Epps

The SBDC organized a group of business mentors and startup advisors to assist the 17 MESC semi-finalists with their business plans.  For the fifth consecutive year, Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, SIUE School of Business and University Park at SIUE were the Startup Challenge’s cornerstone sponsors. America’s Central Port, Scott Credit Union, and the City of Collinsville were this year’s premier sponsors.

Other sponsors included the City of Edwardsville, Growth Corp, St. Clair County, Town & Country Bank (Edwardsville and Fairview Heights locations), Madison County, First Bank, Anders CPAs and Advisors, the City of Alton, Carrollton Bank, the City of Highland, Commerce Bank, the Riverbend Growth Association, the City of Columbia and the Barber Murphy Group.  

The Illinois SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE works directly with entrepreneurs and small business owners located in the nine-county Metro East region of Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe and Randolph. It is funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville as a service to the region’s entrepreneurial and business community.

The Illinois SBDC Network provides one-stop assistance to individuals by means of counseling, training, research and advocacy for new ventures and existing small businesses. As a key member of this Network, the Illinois SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE and East St. Louis delivers these important services to its clients while supporting the goals and objectives of both the SIUE School of Business and the University at large. To learn how these no-cost services may help your small business, contact the Illinois SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE and East St. Louis at (618) 650-2929 or [email protected]

Photo (L-R): Shown are Jo Ann DiMaggio May with winners Dylan Mueth, Tyler Mueth and William Mueth, and School of Business Dean Tim Schoenecker, PhD.