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LGBT Chamber holds inaugural Biz Boot Camp pitch competition
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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The LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois ( LGBTCC ) held its inaugural LGBTQ+ Biz Boot Camp pitch competition event Nov. 12 at 1871, Chicago's technology and entrepreneur center at theMART ( formerly Merchandise Mart ).

About a year ago, LGBTCC Director Jerome' Holston brought this idea to the chamber's board of directors, who quickly signed off on it.

"Tonight is a culmination of the participants completing a six-week intensive series of workshops that focused on business plans, marketing strategies, legal issues, accounting and various other topics necessary to launch a successful business," said Holston. "I am super-excited about the mix of participants and businesses that we had in our inaugural cohort, and look forward to building out the program to make it even more impactful for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs across Chicago. Our board and staff are very thankful to our sponsors, participants, mentors and all partners involved."

Holston said the LGBTCC hired The Wynners Club Owner and Founder and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program Alumni Outreach Director Kristina Wynne to create the curriculum and facilitate the program. Each week had a different classroom mentor, including The Equality Institute's Bernadette Smith, Edward Jones' Patty Finley and Urban Pooch's Ed Kaczmarek as well as speakers Thorelli & Associates' Nathan Cutler, who focused on legal issues; Women's Business Development Center's Jaemie Neely; and, for social media and marketing assistance, Townie Branding's James Hart.

Participants completed an application and were interviewed prior to being admitted into the program. Of the 10 applicants who were approved, two had to drop out early in the process due to scheduling conflicts on some of those Saturdays.

The Saturday sessions ran Oct. 5-Nov. 9; each participant was required to attend all six of them to be eligible for the first place prize. Ahead of the competition, participants received two weeks of coaching from the mentors and First Story Strategies' Randy Ford.

Pitch participants included A Move to Remember's Joshua "Trix" Kirkpatrick,'s Gail Browder, The Brown Skin Lady Show's Jasmine Barber, Drinks By A Diva's Brandee Dyson, Darkest Horse's Rada Yovovich and E3 Radio's Anna DeShawn. Two participants, Action Plan LLC's Alicia Figueroa and The Care Plan's Morocco B. Assouline were unable to compete that evening due to family obligations.

To demonstrate what they learned, each participant did a five minute pitch to the judges—Avila Creative Principal John Avila, DyMynd CEO/founder Carolyn Leonard, MillerCoors Community Affairs Director Michael Nordman, FHLB Chicago Senior Vice President Kathy Rasmussen, and Earles Architects and Associates, Inc. CFO Bill Rossi—with the goal of winning the $500 first prize that Earles sponsored. The second place winner, chosen from the remaining five participants, received a $300 prize from Urban Pooch.

Ahead of the pitches, Holston told the crowd he hopes this competition increases the number of successful LGBTQ-owned businesses in Chicago.

Kirkpatrick said his company's primary goal is to help underrepresented communities with their moving needs due to displacement, unfair evictions and unsafe living conditions on a sliding-scale fee structure.

Browder spoke about BePrept as a repository of videos that are cliff notes for life for everyday living about practical life skills geared toward Millennials and Gen Z'ers. She said the company's tag line is "know it in a nano" and a portion of the proceeds will be donated toward finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease.

Barber said her company is centered on celebrating Black and Brown women artists who are often absent from other social gatherings in Chicago by showcasing them at her events.

Dyson spoke about her desire to be a modern day Sam Malone from Cheers by providing people with a mobile bartending experience.

Yovovich said The Darkest Horse assists companies in finding diverse talent to add to their workforce.

DeShawn spoke about her 24-hour online radio channel that focuses on Black LGBTQ artists, adding an app is on the way. She said the channel currently gets 3,000 individual listens a month.

Q&A sessions with the judges followed each presentation.

Wynne announced that Browder was the first place winner and told each participant they would be receiving a silver level LGBTCC membership for the 2020 year.

Earles Architects and Associates, Inc. Principal Dan Earles was on hand to congratulate Browder on her winning pitch.

Urban Pooch's Kaczmarek provided the runner-up, DeShawn, the second place prize.

Board President Matt Phillips announced that the LGBTCC will be doing the program at the same time next year. Holston told this publication that anyone who is interested in participating should reach out to him at .

Program sponsors included MillerCoors, Proud to Run Chicago and America's Dog & Burger.

See for more information.

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