Addie Miller joined the Launch San Juan Islands business plan competition to find a mentor. She got one — and the grand-prize of $2,000.
“I needed a group of unbiased professionals, that wasn’t my mom, that wasn’t my best friend, to talk about my business,” said Miller, who owns Tush & Bush, a women’s underwear company on San Juan Island.
Launch San Juan Islands is a business competition created by the San Juan County Economic Development Council in 2015 to instruct San Juan County for-profit businesses, less than a year old, to create realistic and scalable business plans to grow San Juan County’s economy.
“Small, local businesses are our No. 1 job creator and economic booster, particularly in a small community like the San Juan Islands,” said Victoria Compton, executive director of the San Juan County economic development council.
Miller met her assigned mentor, Bob Brunkow, four times over the two-month program and emailed regularly to revise her business plan. Brunkow used his 45 years of manufacturing experience, as founder of a ham radio company, to help Miller form a business plan for expansion. Miller has more orders than she can fill.
“Right now, I’m sitting behind a sewing machine doing it all — the marketing, the design, the finances,” said Miller. “Bob helped me to think more broadly.”
Contestants are required to attend one seminar on issues like finance and marketing. After consulting with mentors for a month, they present revised business plans at a trade show for the mentors and judges. Final plan presentations are given to the same group, before judging.
“It’s like ‘Shark Tank,’” said Compton, “but less sharky.”
Companies that meet the 10 eligibility requirements and pay the $85 entry fee join the competition. This year started with 11 companies and ended with five. Dropouts occur when business plans don’t pan out or owners can’t continue to miss their fulltime jobs.
Each of the five finalists earned a prize. Kristine Brown of San Juan Island earned $1,300 for the online design and printing spinoff of Printonyx, tentatively called IslePrint.online. Three third place winners earned $500 each; Aunde Cornely of San Juan Island for a boudoir photography company called Embodied Spirit, Claudia Bradley of Lopez Island for a sewing and repair company called Sew What!, and Shannon Borg of San Juan Island for a digital marketing company that promotes sustainable culinary arts businesses called Oysterous & Vine.
Miller plans to use her winnings to pay a Seattle manufacturing company to create her first, large-scale production. Her goal is to eventually manufacture on island in another year or so. That means employing more people in San Juan County, in roles in administration, production and design.
Winners from 2015 have the same goals. Tim Fry, one of 2015’s third place winners, launched a mobile app to draw consumers on island with his company 468 Communications. Of the 2,089 users who have downloaded the San Juan Island Insider app, 71 percent were located 50 miles from the islands. Currently, 98 San Juan County businesses use the app, which rewards customers for shopping at local stores with points that can be redeemed for discounts or merchandise.
“This is the second year for the competition and I hope it continues for years to come,” said Fry. “It made a huge difference for my business and can do the same for others. I see all sorts of opportunities for bigger impact.”
Sasha von Dassow won first place in the competition’s inaugural year for SJI Transport Service. In his 18 months of business, Von Dassow has transported up to $80,000 worth of wholesale fruits, vegetables and meats from farmers to co-ops and restaurants, on island. He’s also brought up to $250,000 worth of wholesale products to the San Juan Island Food Co-op from regional farms. Von Dassow used his 2015 winnings to refrigerate a truck and plans to add two additional trucks and drivers by summer.
Compton says that 50 percent of money spent locally, stays local. More local businesses in the county, also means more of that, small-town island charm that keeps people coming.
“Local business owners support local community causes and provide a backbone of services,” said Compton. “They contribute to the character of the islands.”
2016 Launch San Juan Islands Judges:Travis Ayers, Luxel
- Becki Day, of the San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce
- Ashley Draffkorn, Valmark
- Steve Hushebeck, Friday Harbor Council
2016 Launch San Juan Islands Mentors:
- Bob Brunkow, retired CEO of Icom America in Seattle
- Victoria Compton, EDC Executive Director
- Mark Madsen, EDC president, San Juan Island Library board president, OPALCO boardmember and retired entrepreneur of Allrecipes.com
- Mike Sanders, EDC board member and business systems/cyber security expert at Amgen