In what organizers called the closest competition ever, Sheila Pesjarlais' new business Kiddiwink Kids was selected from among six finalists to receive $5,000 and a business start-up package at CheqYes' third Spark competition held June 10 in Ashland.
The event was broadcast through CheqYes' Facebook page, with a small audience in attendance including judges, organizers business owners themselves and select others.
Each of the finalists pitched their business plans via five-minute presentations followed by five minutes of questions. The audience and judges then voted for their favorite business plan, which ended up being Kiddiwink Kids, which aims to provide parents and caregivers with the tools to create imaginative play for children including craft and activity classes, open-ended and imaginative toys, plus other products for maternity, baby, children's clothing and decor.
CheqYes' Melissa Rabska said this year's finalists were a particularly strong group.
"Over the past three years, they have only continued to raise the bar," Rabska said. "This year we had 17 entrepreneurs apply, and it is so rewarding to help our businesses grow, especially during these difficult and strange economic times."
Fellow CheqYes member and organizer Ashley Moore agreed.
"We have never before seen the competition so close," Moore said. "The judges could not reach a consensus decision."
CheqYes, which originally began as Young Professionals of Chequamegon Bay, uses the Spark competition to foster development of entrepreneurs who are solving community needs, addressing community development, adding workforce opportunities, and/or creating a service or product that enhances the quality of life in the Chequamegon Bay.
Along with Kiddiwink Kids, finalists for the 2021 Sparks competition were:
Antler Specialty Goods — offering local, botanical-inspired wellness goods and specialty drinks from its mobile camper coffee shop.
The Merry Mermaid Markers Market — set to open on June 24, the business at 123 Second Ave. W. in Washburn will offer original art, handmade and vintage products and art classes.
Northernmost Media — a video marketing firm exclusively for business that features content-creation and digital distribution services and has already begun serving local clientele.
Scarlet Fire Glassworks — offering exposure, education and participation in the unique creative processes of hand-blown glass art.
True North Sailing Charters — located in Bayfield, the company offers safe sailing experiences in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Pesjarlais, a mother of two small children, believes her 15 years of accounting experience and passion for Kiddiwink Kids' mission will help her succeed.
"I understand the business side of things, which helps. We will be offering everything kids with a focus on kids that you can't get anywhere else. We are about developing creativity, and growing imaginations," she said.
Each of the business finalists can be found on Facebook for more information on schedules, hours of operation, and available services.
To learn more about CheqYes membership and events, visit its Facebook page.