Small Business Owners Shine at Minnow Tank Competition
September 26, 2018
The first Minnow Tank Business Plan Competition, created and hosted by Great Northern Development Corporation, took place this past Saturday, Sept. 22, at the Cottonwood Inn in Glasgow. Inspired by the business reality show, Shark Tank, the Minnow Tank focused on small businesses in this region of the state, bringing in contestants from nine towns in seven counties.
The competition was partitioned into two categories: start-up businesses and existing businesses, each competing to take home a $5,000 prize to enhance and grow their dreams. Competitors presented their businesses to the assembled crowd and a panel of three judges: Julie Jaksha, regional director of the Small Business Development Center for Headwaters RC&D; Michael Peter, director of the Food and Agriculture Development Center; and Maggie Metzger, small business program specialist at the Montana Department of Transportation.
Given the presentations that evening, the Minnow Tank name may have had more meaning than the event organizers had intended. Just as minnows travel in schools, surrounded by "community" members, small business owners highlighted how they are a part of their communities and their continued growth and success depends on others, while offering those others opportunities for income and careers.
The start-up business presentations began with Bainville Meats, a butcher shop owned by Kevin South and Shawn Bilquist, who stressed their commitment to contributing to the Hunters Against Hunger program. Rone Kendall and Claudia Scott, owners of Rubicon Cookshack in Brockton, talked of using "service with love" to improve their community. Cobb Medical, of Poplar, presented their Light Up My Life Larry CPR manikin, designed to improve retention and understanding of CPR.
Ashley Stentoft, of Scobey and owner of Ashley Stentoft, outlined her plans for her home décor store to be not only a shopping destination, but also a community gathering spot with plans to offer beverages of all kinds. Glasgow's own Connie Boreson was the penultimate presenter showcasing Knuckle Biscuits, her all-natural dog treats made from the spent grains from the Busted Knuckle for the extended, yet vitally important canine members of the community. Ed Morelock, of Circle, rounded out the category with his presentation on plans for reviving the Gladstone Hotel, renamed the Gladrock under his ownership, for retail space and limited hotel use.
Twyla Holum, owner of The Wheatland Lodge in Scobey, spoke of her plans for further renovation, including the addition of a suite to cater to extended stay guests. Cubby Damon was up next, with his Baby Got Back BBQ food truck, saying the prize money would allow him to focus more on the catering side and reaching more customers in the Wolf Point area. Husband and wife team, Michael and Jamie Nielson, propounded on their plans to expand the Tropical Sno portion of CEG Sports in Plentywood. Prairie Hills Recover Center, a treatment center in Sidney and Glendive, was represented by Kayla Anderson, who expressed a desire to offer more comprehensive treatment for addiction and trauma.
Karla Christensen laid out plans to provide a positive interaction with horses, promoting health and responsibility, at her Prairie Breeze Equestrian Center in Jordan. Shauna Farver, whose Farver Farms in Scobey, makes wheat and lentil mixes for quick, healthy meals, is looking to branch out to soup and salad mixes. Mark Zilkoski, better known as Doc Z, was in town to represent Missouri Breaks Brewing and his intent to expand his production and increase distribution. Virgil and Michelle Smith, of Poplar, own Gorilla Heating and Air, which offers 24/7 emergency service, want to be able to continue providing that service, particularly to those who find themselves in need during the harsh winters. Rounding out the presentations was Sam Knodel, on behalf of Sam and Jeff's BBQ Sauce, who focused on the need to be more efficient with production to expand to meet demand.
After the votes were tallied and the judges conferred, Cobb Medical and Prairie Hills Recovery walked away with the big checks, but every participant walked away a winner, having shown their passion for their businesses, their dreams, and their communities. Borseon, who made a strong showing in the start-up category, expressed clear respect for the winners and the judges, "They made the right decision. They're [Cobb Medical] trying to save lives."
The evening showcased the best and most positive aspects of doing business in small, rural communities and presented a learning experience for participants, as Knodel put it, "I learned a lot about myself, our business, our product. It's been a super rewarding experience."