Winners have been announced in the Great Lebanon County Pitch, which gives a boost to local business initiatives.

The competition, which was held on Oct. 19 at The Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce, located at 989 Quentin Road, Suite 1, awarded a total of $8,000 to local business plans and pitches.

Essentially Haitos, an organic skincare company, won first prize and received $5,000.

Also Oct. 19, 72 North Media, an advertising and marketing company, was named runner-up and received $2,000. Homebase Gaming, a proposed traveling or retail gaming experience center, won fan favorite and received $1,000.

Read More: You could win thousands in prize money for your local startup with one great pitch

From left to right: Karen Groh, president and CEO of the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce, and Alicia Haitos and Karen Haitos, of Essentially Haitos, with the $5,000 check. (Provided by Karen Groh)

As part of the competition, five finalists sent in their business plans. One finalist was disqualified because they failed to meet the competition’s criteria.

“Every contestant had to submit a business plan that had a series of things that we requested. And so, that business plan was submitted by Sept. 30,” Karen Groh, president and CEO of the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce and immediate past board chair for The Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence, said. “Then, that business plan plus a rubric that was designed by the board for The Center, a scoring rubric, was sent … to the judges in advance. The judges then scored 60% of each business’s grade, or score, before they even walked into the pitch, on the things that were in the business plan.

“So, once they walked in today, they had 60% of that score. The final 40% were based on the rubric of their presentation.”

A panel of five judges reviewed the business plans for The Great Lebanon County Pitch competition. One judge was unable to attend the competition due to a family emergency.

There were four business pitches given at the competition, including Control LTD (Limited), a company that develops prototypes for medical syringes that dispense cannabis oil.

The judges present at the competition were Dan Beck, vice president of Community First Fund; Thomas Shenk, senior vice president of the commercial banking group of Fulton Bank; Hugh MacMaster, a mentor with Score Lancaster-Lebanon; and Danielle Gundrum, owner of Red Couch Interiors LLC, who won first prize at last year’s competition.

“[The judges] are all in the business industry of some kind,” Groh said. “So, they come to the table with a lot of understanding about business plans and business launches.”

“Before I took over as president of the Chamber, I ran my own business for 20 years,” Groh continued. “So, I did graphic design and marketing. And, you know, I understand some of the side of being an entrepreneur. And, I saw many entrepreneurs over the years come and go. Some succeeded, and some failed. And the failures were always sad, but you could, unfortunately, kind of see them coming because having a good business model and a business plan is so essential.”

After the business pitches were given, the judges were given some time to deliberate. The judges shared their top two businesses, merely in different orders.

“The conversations at that point were just about nuances in their business plan or their presentation. So, without going into specifics, but, I think they just kind of analyzed different parts of their business model in their discussion,” Groh said. “And then, the winner was a clear-cut winner.”

The judges announced the winners of the competition, who then posed with their checks.

Karen Groh, president and CEO of the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce, left, and Jennifer Kristovensky, of 72 North Media, with the $2,000 check. (Provided by Karen Groh)
Karen Groh, president and CEO of the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce, left, and Ramon Gonzalez, of Homebase Gaming, with the $1,000 check. (Provided by Karen Groh)

Looking to the future, Groh said, “We will definitely be doing The Pitch again next year. I think comments from the audience are that people really enjoy watching it. They were fascinated by it and loved seeing the engagement of the entrepreneurs.

“I know that last year’s winners all utilized their funds. They had to provide documentation on how they used them.”

Groh mentioned that last year’s first-prize winner, Red Couch Interiors LLC, invested their award money into expanding their business offerings and services to their clients; that last year’s runner-up, Q’Hubo News, has had continued success; and that last year’s fan favorite, Your Spacial Place, will be opening their doors in about two weeks at North Cornwall Commons.

“I think we want to continue to showcase to Lebanon County entrepreneurs that Lebanon County is a great place to start a business, that we want to support them, and not only providing them with some seed money but also the resources that The Center provides through educational workshops and mentoring,” Groh said.

“So, I think that one of the things that’s so great about The Center is that it is that safe place to come to and say, ‘Hey, I have an idea. I’m not sure if it’s really a good one or not.’ And then, we will provide them with the tools to have that conversation in a private situation, in a private setting. And, we can hopefully direct them, what those next steps might be,” Groh said. “We want entrepreneurs in Lebanon County to have the greatest chance of success. And I think that’s, to me, the key to The Center, by providing those support services.”

Investors of this year’s competition were Community First Fund, Fulton Bank, and Score. There was no fee for contestants to apply or participate.

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Lexi Gonzalez is a reporter for LebTown. She is currently completing her bachelor's degree at Lebanon Valley College.