“Sharks” in the Water for South End Business Pitch Competition

by Marcus Harrison Green

The high stakes drama of budding business titans battling it out for startup supremacy is headed for South Seattle.

Thursday evening’s Sharks at the Beach – a nod to hyper-intense business pitch reality show The Shark Tank – will see six groups of South End-based entrepreneurs present their newly hatched business ideas under the scrutinizing gaze of 5 local captains of industry.

Now in its third year, the event is part of Urban Impact’s local “business accelerator initiative.” The community development group, headquartered out of Rainier Beach’s Emerald Bible Fellowship Church, sees homegrown business as a way to stiffen resistance to displacement in South Seattle.

“We have an audacious goal of our economic development efforts assisting every under-resourced family in the Rainier Valley, and Sharks at the Beach is one event to help out with that,” says B.J. Stewart, Impact’s Chief Operating Officer.

Stewart, bald and clad in business casual attire of a blue collared dress shirt and dark khaki pants during our conversation, says the event, which he’s spearheading in his second year at Urban Impact, is actually less about fierce competition between business novices and more about collaboration amongst community members.

“We are looking to establish a pathway that exist for entrepreneurs here in the Rainier Valley, [a pathway] that already exists in South Lake Union and Bellevue and more prosperous parts of Seattle. It’s not that those pathways don’t exist in this high-growth entrepreneurial place. It’s that the connections aren’t being made in our community,” says Stewart.

A successful entrepreneur himself, he owned a chain of restaurants and a staffing agency in Denver before heading to Seattle on a whim: scratching his itch for life fulfillment after a divorce. Stewart says Sharks at the Beach also offers participants a full-service education in business fundamentals, as part of his organization’s partnership with Seattle Pacific University.

All the participants, recruited by word of mouth via South End community members, were required to undergo an 8-week Social Venture class at Seattle Pacific University. The free courses taught the value of business planning, industry research, financial strategizing. The program also provided mentoring from business pros – something last year’s Sharks at the Beach winner cherishes more than the $2000 in winnings he walked away with.

“I can tell you that the prize money definitely comes in handy, but for me the more valuable take away from my participation was the opportunity to work with a stellar group of Seattle Pacific University Business School students who, as part of my team, worked diligently to help research my idea and develop a comprehensive business plan/strategy for my social venture,” says Karl Hackett, owner of Hillman City’s Jacob Willard Home furniture store and a member of the Hillman City Business Association. 

Hackett, whose “community development first” apartment housing co-operative idea won both last year’s $1000 judge’s prize and $1000 audience prize, says the critical feedback received during the courses helped sharpen his concept, which he continues to develop.

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B.J. Stewart (left) and Karl Hackett (center) with a Sharks At The Beach judge during last year’s competition. Photo courtesy of Urban Impact

Last year’s $500 second place winner, Rachel Tefft of mobile farm stand Roots of All Roads, also values the mentorship aspect of Sharks at the Beach, seeing it as a needed supplemental education for youth in the area.

“It was inspiring to see the young people with their ideas last year. I’d love to see the event extend its partnership to Rainier Beach and Franklin High School,” exclaims Tefft, planting her hand on her forehead to mimic a shark’s fin whenever she says “Sharks at the Beach.”

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B.J. Stewart (left) with  last year’s runner-up Rachel Tefft (center), and a Sharks at the Beach judge. [Photo courtesy of Urban Impact]
Inspiration should be plentiful at this year’s event as well. Presentations include a co-operatively owned real estate venture, a youth-owned skincare product line, and Queen Care cosmetics- headed up by local business owner Monica Mathews, who is enthused for Thursday night.

“I’m excited to participate in Sharks at the Beach this year as it is a way for me to sharpen my business pitch skills in preparation for securing larger amounts of financing for my startup business, Queen Care. I’m excited for a little healthy competition during Sharks at the Beach! Iron sharpens iron. Our community is full of vibrant businesses and business ideas!” says Mathews, adding that the business plan she crafted during SPU’s 8 week class in preparation for Thursday has already proved invaluable.

Mathews is looking forward to having her proposal critiqued by the likes of Molly Moon, of Molly Moon’s Ice Cream, and Julie Pham from Washington Technology Industry Association on Thursday.

But win or lose, Stewart, who will be MC’ing the event, says no one should walk away from the event feeling defeated.

“The real value is not the prize money, however fortuitous that would be.  The real opportunity is for folks to get a chance to vet their idea and to develop a business plan. This was the first time many of them have been able to think it through and being able to say does this idea have legs are not?”

Sharks at the Beach will take place Thursday 4/27 from 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm at Emerald City Bible Fellowship (7728 Rainier Ave S, Seattle, Washington 98118)

MHG ColorMarcus Harrison Green, is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of the South Seattle Emerald, the current scholar-in-residence at Town Hall Seattle, a former Reporting Fellow with YES! Magazine, a past- board member of the Western Washington Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a recipient of Crosscut’s Courage Award for Culture. He currently resides in the Rainier Beach neighborhood and can be found on Twitter @mhgreen3000

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