Spacious, well lit room. A group of multicultural business owners are seated with an isle dividing the chairs. A large group of people stand in the back.

Mapping Success: Small Business Proposal & Pitch Competition

Have you wondered about starting your own business but feelings of fear and apprehension are keeping you back? Are you even being discouraged by your loved ones? Deciding to start your own business is HARD, especially when you don’t have many role models to look up to. You can have the greatest idea ever, but without the proper encouragement and right support, it probably won’t go very far. Your mindset and perseverance goes a long, long way. I have definitively felt discouraged about my business even though breastfeeding services are needed and especially in communities like mine. 

Multicultural Businesses

In March 2023, my husband forwarded an email to me. I scrolled through it and saw that M&T Bank along with Carver Federal Savings Bank was holding a small business proposal and pitch competition in Harlem. They were looking for 60 multicultural businesses in the “Greater Harlem Area” to compete for cash prizes totaling $35,000. The other criteria were that we had to be in business for less than 3 years and had under a certain amount in revenue. In a city as large as NYC, I figured hundreds of other small businesses would have applied and that I wouldn’t have a chance. But I applied anyway and set it aside to work on other things. During this time period, my business was at a turning point. Because I wasn’t working a full-time job anymore, focusing on JC Lactation Counseling was something I was doing instead. I was totally winging it though. I didn’t have anyone else on my team, I had no marketing strategy, nor any idea of how to grow. Then I was selected and I was like WOW, is this really happening right now? Can I make my business a full-time endeavor? It was like the proverbial fire was lit under me. I had to shift my life around so that I could be available for two hours in the evenings for 6 consecutive Thursdays. I had to be present at each meeting so that I could qualify for the cash prizes. I really didn’t know what to expect but I was blown away just on the first day!

The Journey to Business Success

A selfie group picture of 8 people. The person to the far left is a Black man with a mustache, short black curly hair and is wearing black glasses. The person above him is a smiling Black man with black hair and a short buzzcut. The woman to the right is a smiling Black woman wearing a wine colored sweater, shoulder length black locs and burgundy glasses. The woman to the right and above the previous woman, is a smiling Black woman in a black t-shirt with thick black afro hair. The woman to the right of the previous woman is a smiling Black woman with light brown chin length locs, wearing a black long sleeved sweater, blue jeans and grey winter boots. The smiling Black woman to the right of the previous woman is slightly stooping down. She is wearing a floral dress, has armpit length thick black two-strand twists and red glasses. The woman to the right is a smiling Black woman with a cream colored winter coat and a black cross-body bag. The man on the far right is a smiling Black man with short black hair wearing a white collared shirt with blue and red color peaking out, a dark blue blazer and Black glasses
Pat Warner (floral dress) surrounded by participants and David Femi (far right) of M&T Bank

Pat Warner was the business consultant and had all of us at the edge of our seats. She was phenomenal and inspired us all. She explained things in a few minutes that after years of research and networking, I still hadn’t understood. In the following weeks, we had presentations by a business lawyer, marketing experts, bank managers, and bank directors. Sometimes it felt impossible, like when we were talking about establishing business credit and the necessity to use personal credit/information first.

Business Plan Framework

The proposal part of the competition was simple; answer 10 questions. It was no simple task though and I worked on it for weeks. Like, I had my notebook with me in bed even! I worked on it late at night, throughout the day. These 10 questions were the foundation of my business plan, one that was already kind of in my head but never made it to paper after two years in business. A couple of the questions brought out a lot of my insecurities and fears about being an entrepreneur. I remember writing and rambling out my feelings in one question. My kind friend that I asked to edit, read the nonsense I wrote and simply said “You should rework this”. I just deleted the whole thing LOL. It was very cathartic having someone else read my ramblings and inner fears that I try my best to hide. I didn’t feel that my business had been as successful as I thought it would have been when like how I thought back in early days of launching.

Entrepreneurs need encouragement, and help!

Being in this competition shined a huge spotlight on all the ways that my business was struggling. The biggest takeaway was that I NEEDED TO DELEGATE!! I was taking on everything. I had this warped idea that I needed to do everything on my own since I wasn’t making money as yet. I wasn’t a stranger to spending money though; I put up a thousand dollars from my savings on things that didn’t turn a profit. Being in this competition taught me to not think of this as wasted money but as an investment into my business. Also, a huge lesson was learned! As the weeks went by, I felt more confident in what I needed to do for JC Lactation Counseling. The pitch part of the competition was to submit a 2-minute video. With the help of my husband’s photography skills and suggestions, I uploaded my video to TikTok. Check it out here:



♬ original sound – Janice Clarke LC

At the end of the 5th class, they announced the 7 finalists…..and I was one of them!! So now I had about a week to prepare for my live pitch. My family, my dear friend, and relatives that I was estranged from for 8 years showed up to show me love and support. Although I didn’t win a cash prize that night, I still felt like a winner. I won the greatest prize; knowledge and information. Also, confidence because I was killing it on stage! And I am so extremely proud and happy for the winners 

Small Business Proposal and Pitch Competition Winners

And the winners are….

The 3rd Prize of $7,000 went to Britney Wallace and Catherine Buccello of The Bodega Lounge. This will be a brick-and-mortar community center for creators to build fellowship, network, and flourish personally and professionally.

The 2nd Prize of $12,000 went to Alton Weeks owner of Cellful Organics. It is a cold-pressed juice company that aims to improve focus, mental clarity, energy, and immune systems. You can check out more of his story here

The First Prize of $16,000 went to beauty consultant Erica Watson, owner of MixxTresses Hair Collection —A firm that provides hair extensions, products, and replacement services, as well as educates clients on the beauty and maintenance of textured hair.

Advice for budding Entrepreneurs 

  • Always work toward your goals. Even if you get a no this time, doesn’t mean it’s going to be a no all the time.
  • Take everything as a learning experience and always walk away with new nuggets of knowledge. 
  • Check your emails! You never know what you may find.
  • Surround yourself with positive people who encourage you, root for you, and are happy for your successes.
  • Expand your team! You can’t do everything on your own. Work with businesses consultants, coaches, social media managers, marketing folks, virtual assistants, accountants, attorneys –  anyone you need to help your business thrive

No matter what industry, whether its health care related, fintech, construction, or fashion, every business deserves a written plan. If you’re in the New York City region and have a NYPL library card, I highly highly recommend the business library for assistance with research, industry information and resources. You can even have a one-on-one chat with a librarian! As I mentioned in a previous post, I am resilient, working hard on my goals and striving to make JC Lactation Counseling the “go-to” breastfeeding support company for the Bronx and surrounding areas.