MARION — Six entrepreneurs vied for thousands of dollars in prize money in The Forge Marion. This “Shark Tank”-style competition featured three for-profit businesses and three non-profit plans.
The small business contenders include:
- James Emery with EMRAY LLC proposed an ultraviolet sanitation tool to market to schools to allow students to use water fountains, eliminating the expense of providing bottled water.
- Drake Tulloh with Painless Fleet Maintenance provides an innovative service that brings mechanics to clients’ parking lots after hours to keep vehicles running and avoid costly outages.
- Zac Fuller with the Marion Ohio News Network has a news service and is working to expand into a television news channel.
The nonprofit competitors include:
- Brooke Olson with Ability Vending is the mother of a young adult with autism. She wants to address the large unemployment rate in adults with autism by franchising a vending machine microbusiness with minimal start-up costs. Her son is running his franchise.
- Tammy Brammer with Marion Midget Football is looking to purchase a field and expand programming to serve more children and teens.
- Tyler Butler with Terradise Nature Center in Caledonia is working to expand the nonprofit and involve more youth and adults in learning about how to conserve nature.
The judges reviewed the business plans and forecasts and scored them based on a number of factors including originality and creative solutions to a problem.
After the scores were tallied, the $2,500 top business prize was awarded to Drake Tulloh with Painless Fleet Maintenance and the $1,000 top nonprofit prize was awarded to Brooke Olson with Ability Vending.
“It was really exciting. It was a nice validation. It was good to get everyone’s opinion on it. The Forge was a really great experience!” Tulloh said.
Olson shared Tulloh’s sentiment.
“I felt great. It reinforced that this was something worthwhile. The same judges looked at businesses and non-profits,” Olson said. “It was good to have people from the community say, ‘This is fantastic. I get behind this!’”
More than just the award was the validation of Olson’s nonprofit.
“To have that reinforcement from community stakeholders was really great. You know you’re on the right path,” Olson shared.
All participants in the Forge received free business classes from Marion Tech. The competitors were selected from about 20 local entrepreneurs who attended the classes taught by Faculty Scott Hughes.
“The prize money was great, but everything I learned was the true gold of the Forge. There was never a week that went by that you didn’t learn something – from management to finances to applying for loans. It was really educational,” Tulloh stated.
While he started his company in July, the Mt. Gilead man found the classes to be a wise investment of his time.
“It was very beneficial as you start a business. It made me go back and look at some things I’ve already done and made some tweaks,” Tulloh shared.
Olson, a Powell woman with ties to Marion, found the class valuable resources and expert speakers.
“Anyone thinking about starting a business, I would definitely recommend going through the classes. The classes are amazing. They have great content and great contacts,” Olson said.
“We really value our community for supporting The Forge and these entrepreneurs,” said Mike Augenstein, director of Workforce Solutions at Marion Tech. “When small businesses thrive, our community wins. With the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to help them start and grow.”
The Forge was created by local members of the 2016-2017 Leadership Marion class at the Marion Area Chamber of Commerce. They created the Forge in response to a study by the Marion Area Chamber of Commerce, showing Marion was below average in small business start-ups compared to neighboring counties and the state. This impacts the jobs and wealth our community.
In 2017, seven entrepreneurs entered the competition. In 2018, 25 people entered The Forge. In 2019, nearly 30 competitors took part. Past competitors included the owners of Attaboys, the Explore-It-Torium, the Main Squeeze, Jordan Energy Solutions, and the Sweada Mae Art Cafe.