In a fierce and exhilarating competition, local entrepreneurs competed for thousands of dollars in seed money at the Brickyard on Main on Oct. 11, 2022. At the end of the night, three local businesses were awarded prizes from the Forge Competition sponsored by Alluvial Private Wealth.
“When we gain more small businesses, everyone in our community wins,” said Lars Olson, President of Alluvial. “It’s exciting to see the new class of entrepreneurs lay out their plans for the future.”
- Jess Lamar Reece Holler pitched her plan for the Public Square Heritage Futures to revitalize the Caledonia Square Masonic Block and bring in retail.
- Allison Longsdorf showed samples of her custom decorations for local weddings as well seasonal décor from her business, the Brushed Buckeye.
- Jenny Lust detailed her plan to grow Spruce and Sparrow, a boutique in downtown Marion with home goods, clothing, and art classes.
- Caledonia Mayor April Morrison presented a vision to build out the Caledonia Farmers Market including plans to serve more seniors with vouchers for fresh produce as well as becoming a WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program partner.
- Paco Ollervides shared his concept for Eco Farms, a micro-farming co-op to provide fresh local produce to area restaurants and consumers. This builds on the Microfarm Project that kicked off in April. Ollervides and his wife, Emily, currently run the ECO Center in Marion, which provides outdoor educational experiences for youth.
- These competitors were selected from than thirty local entrepreneurs who attended the Forge business classes at Marion Technical College from August through October at no cost. Many participants and local business people came to cheer on the presenters.
Jess Lamar Reece Holler took home the top prize of $2,500. She is the first two-time winner in the Forge’s history. She won in 2021 for the Marion Voices + Oral Folklife nonprofit.
“We’re so lucky to have the Forge in our community. I’m so proud of the way the Village of Caledonia showed up. It’s exciting to see the investment from Marion Technical College and Alluvial in our rural communities,” Jess Lamar Reece Holler said. “We hope to change Caledonia’s future by building on its past with historic preservation and community development.”
In the extremely close competition, Allison Longsdorf with the Brushed Buckeye was awarded second place and $1,500.
Jenny Lust with Spruce and Sparrow won third place and $1,000.
Judges included Chloe Goodlive, a patent attorney with Ward Law Office; Ted Graham, owner of GP Properties and a local leader in business and industry; and Luke Henry, owner of several businesses including ProScape Lawn & Landscape Services, The Brickyard on Main and Main Street Reimagined. Each presenter was scored on innovation, value creation, feasibility, community impact and quality of the presentation in showing the entrepreneur’s vision.
“I continue to see that we have a gap in entrepreneurship in Marion. The Forge is helping to fill that gap. A community of our size should be able to launch creative new businesses that are unique and exclusive to Marion,” Henry said.
The Forge’s Legacy
Since 2017, participants have sparked or grown a number of MarionMade! businesses and nonprofits. These include Ability Vending, Attaboys, A Taste of Memphis, Busy B Cleaning, the Explore-It-Torium Children’s Museum, Harding Harbor Seafood, Jordan Energy Alternative, Leading Ladies (now the Legacy Mentoring Group), Painless Fleet Maintenance, Presidential Cleaning Services, Sights Unseen Travel, and the Sweada Mae Art Café. They have created dozens of new jobs.
“We’re excited about Marion’s future. We love the partnership with Marion Technical Collage to drive the entrepreneurial spirit,” said Matt Carbary, president of the Marion Area Chamber of Commerce.
The 2017 Leadership Marion class of the Marion Area Chamber of Commerce founded the Forge after a study that showed Marion needed more small businesses, which are key to building wealth in a community.
The Forge would like to thank all of its committee members and sponsors including Alluvial Private Wealth, Painless Fleet Maintenance, the Henry Development Group, the Brickyard on Main, and Main Street Reimagined. Thanks also to Joel Thorpe with Emerald Custom Woodcraft LLC for providing the custom prizes and a Taste of Memphis for catering. For more, go to www.mtc.edu/the_forge/.