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Exclusive Finalist Interviews: Going Behind the Scenes of the 2021 South Side Pitch Competition

Who will take home the first place prize? Support your favorite business!

2021 South Side Pitch Competition

Originally published on October 20, 2021 on Facebook’s Bulletin platform.

It’s almost here!

The 2021 South Side Pitch competition will take place on Thursday, October 21. Did you register yet? If not, you can secure your spot here. You can also sign up as a judge to vote for your favorite small business. The virtual event will be live-streamed on Facebook and Youtube from 6:00 – 8:00 pm CST.

Prizes will be awarded to the winners of the South Side Pitch competition. The first-place winner will take home $8,000. The second and third place pitch competition winners will receive $7,000 and $5,000, respectively. A final award will be given to the “Community Favorite.”

Over 100 small businesses submitted an application to compete in the South Side Pitch competition. Six finalists were selected to share their product and/or service with a panel of judges and a virtual audience. This will be the 8th annual South Side Pitch competition organized by the Institute for Justice (IJ) Clinic on Entrepreneurship. Click here to see the full list of finalists and past winners.

“We wanted to hold an event that would bring entrepreneurs from the South Side together,” Beth Kregor, director of the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship, told Chicago Southsider. “[The goal is to] shine a light on the creative, innovative, and exciting entrepreneurship happening on the South Side. We hoped that the event would inspire people in the audience to pursue their dreams of entrepreneurship.”

Trading Races

Kenyatta Forbes, founder of Trading Races, was inspired to pursue the South Side Pitch competition after watching her friends compete as finalists. This year, Forbes applied so that she could take her business to the next level.

“I’m a former Chicago Public School teacher,” says Forbes. “I saw a lack of student interest in learning or understanding our history. I wanted a way to engage students so I created a game. “

She continues, “I think our brand is out of place. Growth is needed and necessary. [South Side Pitch] is a great opportunity to get the capital to explore bringing the game to a digital platform. Then, we can reach more educational institutions across the world.”

Piggyback Network

Ismael El-Amin, founder of Piggyback Network, is also not a stranger to the South Side Pitch competition. He was once a spectator at a competition near 71st and Yates on the South Side of Chicago.

“I saw people who had the bravery to stand up, present their idea, share their product or service, and be professionally critiqued,” says El-Amin. “And the judges and coaches provided great tips. It was a positive experience. [The competition] was in a familiar neighborhood where I grew up, and I was just like ‘this is where I want to be when I’m ready to launch’.”

This summer, El-Amin was able to leverage his coding and website design experience as a software engineer to launch Piggyback Network. The company’s slogan is “Where Community Meets Commute.” As a father of three, he wanted to find a convenient way to manage his children’s commute to and from school.

“Three years ago, I started looking at ways to create a carpool network,” says El-Amin. “Parents are extremely busy and there could be benefits in being able to ride each other’s children around. Reaching out and creating a network of parents was time-consuming so I made an online platform where parents can sign up. The platform will take the routes that you’re driving and introduce you to other parents who have the same routes. So in that way, we can minimize the hassle of trying to link with the family that is on our way. “

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As many families deal with the battles of the pandemic, more entrepreneurs have taken a stand and created solutions.

Sista Afya

Camesha Jones, Founder of Sista Afya, opened a community mental wellness center to cater to the needs of Black women.

“Sista Afya is essential to the South Side because we are one of the few organizations that provide mental wellness care to women,” Camesha Jones told Chicago Southsider in an email. “We create a space where Black women can be themselves, be poured into, and heal from the challenges they face every day.”

(Image Courtesy of Sista Afya)

Jones is on a mission to secure more funding to expand her reach.

“The funds from the pitch competition will go towards hiring two therapists that can offer low-cost therapy to Black women. We are trying to scale our business to serve more women. We are currently at capacity to serve additional women because of limited staff. There is a mental health crisis as far as openings for therapy sessions that are affordable to people. By hiring two additional therapists, we can serve 100 more women in 2022.”

Blossom Girls Network

Women’s empowerment is a popular theme on the South Side of Chicago. That’s why Odessa Parkinson is starting early and finding creative ways to build self-esteem in young girls.

(Image Credit: South Side Pitch)

Parkinson, founder of Blossom Girls Network, is on a mission to “Celebrate, Educate, Empower, and Connect girls on their journey to young womanhood”. She created The Blossom Girl Period Celebration Kit as a way to help girls understand the changes in their bodies leading to menstruation.

“My goal was to provide my daughter Kayla with a positive experience regarding womanhood,” says Odessa Parkinson. “When other people heard about it, they said ‘hey, can you give my daughter a party?’ I did a couple of parties and started packaging the experience into a box.”

She adds, “I want girls to feel good about themselves, feel celebrated, and see this as a positive time. Then they can do that for their girls when they become parents. We want to move the needle and change the view of young women and menstruation.”

Parkinson is on her way to shifting the menstruation process from a period of embarrassment to empowerment. The best part is there is a community of other women who are embracing the same mission.

D. Jones Construction

Dominique Jones, former Miss Illinois United States, has been a role model for women in the community and in her profession. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Engineering and Technology and a Master’s degree in Industrial Technology, she started her full-time career as a project engineer. But she knew that her career dreams were too large for the space she occupied.

(Image Credit: Dominique Jones, Facebook)

“Noticing that I was hitting a glass ceiling very early in my career, I started D. Jones Construction,” Dominique Jones told the Chicago Southsider in an email. “[I wanted] to create a lane for myself, and for those who look like me, to take full advantage of all that the construction industry has to offer.”

D. Jones Construction is a 100% minority-owned and women-owned certified general construction company. She partners with non-profit organizations and minority small business owners to renovate distressed space.

“Restoring hazardous properties on the South Side of Chicago gives us the opportunity to shine a light on something that was once forgotten about,” says Jones, according to the South Side Pitch competition website.

Are you inspired yet? Leave a comment below and let us know if you are excited about the South Side Pitch competition. Do you want another dose of inspiration? Make sure you register to attend the 8th Annual South Side Pitch competition from the comfort of your home.

If you want to dive in and be a competitor next year, here are some words of wisdom from Kenyatta Forbes, founder of Trading Races.

“Go for it. If you never apply or pitch, you will never know the opportunity that may be waiting for you.”



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