Hosted by the Entrepreneurship Center at Washtenaw Community College (WCC), entrants competed in either a “Start” category for prospective entrepreneurs who need help launching or further developing their plans, or the “Build” category for existing business owners who need support in growing their customer base. This year judges heard pitches for businesses ranging from educational bilingual books to companion care services.
Coming in first place in the “Start” category was Michigan Refillery, founded by Ypsilanti resident Emily Holiday. The company’s goal is to reduce single-use plastics by buying common household products in bulk and then refilling customers’ reusable containers.
“I’ve never run a business before, so it’s just awesome to have this type of validation from professionals,” Holiday says. “I’ve always been passionate about sustainability. I have been trying to share this passion out into the community for a while now, and I feel more empowered to do that.”
Her service currently offers staple products like dish soaps, hand soaps, and multipurpose cleaners. The process is simple: customers place their orders and leave empty reusable containers outside their homes for Holiday to fill them up.
“The idea is that we reduce landfill waste because there aren’t more containers or empty spray bottles or laundry detergent tubs being bought,” she says. “Plus, we make it super-easy. There are refill shops in town, but they are brick-and-mortar and it’s not always convenient to schlep into town with all your empty containers and pay for parking.”
Michigan Refillery currently offers Dawn products and some smaller Michigan-made products. Part of Holiday’s $1,500 competition winnings will go toward her plans of expanding the company’s stock so she can serve more people.
“We want to offer more products at different price points. We’ve even started thinking about starting to make some bar soaps in-house and creating a program to help shelters and pantries,” she says. “We don’t want either income or inconvenience to be barriers to sustainability.”
“Start” runner-up Lisa Blake won $1,000 for her company, Care Champion, which helps arrange health care attendants for clients who require personal care, patient sitting services, or case management assistance during hospital and nursing home stays. The second runner-up, and $750 prize winner, was Oyun-Erdene Damitio, founder of Oyu Global. The company’s goal is to create educational bilingual children’s books.
In the “Build” category, the $2,000 grand prize went to Satara Holliday, founder of motor coach company First Love Tours. The runner-up prize of $1,500 went to Cathryn Coleman’s business, Bouncing Around the Motor City, which offers inflatable, balloon, and other decor rentals for events. The $1,000 second runner-up prize went to Cymone Croft’s company, She’s Virtual, which offers affordable administrative services for entrepreneurs. All other participants received a free hour of business coaching with Colette Douglas of Elite Customer Service.
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of WCC.