January 21, 2021

With challenges come opportunities. This was the mantra of the 2020 South Side Pitch competition, the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship’s annual Shark Tank-style event. 

In the past, the event has given South Side startups a chance to compete for prizes to help launch their businesses. But with so many existing businesses struggling this year, the IJ Clinic decided to focus on established businesses that have helped build up the South Side community but are fighting to keep their doors open amid the ongoing pandemic. We also took the event to a virtual platform and livestreamed and uploaded each participant’s pitch to our Facebook and YouTube accounts for everyone to see. 

This year’s competition connected us to some incredible finalists who are constantly finding ways to reinvent themselves and their businesses to better serve their customers. Winners were selected based on the evaluations of judges and the votes of audience participants.

First place went to The Black Mall, a marketplace of Black-owned businesses that includes an online business directory and a brick-and-mortar shop selling products from more than 50 Black-owned businesses. The business also won the most votes from the public in the contest’s semifinal round and plans to use the $11,000 prize to upgrade its website and expand its fulfillment center. 

New Magnolia Garden Center, a U-pick farm and garden center, took second place and a cash prize of $7,000. Entrepreneur Tia Gadberry loved gardening so much that she turned her passion into a dream. She opened an urban farm after noticing her neighborhood lacked an adequate selection of fruits and vegetables. 

Third place and $5,000 went to Lemonade Land, which was born out of the pandemic as an outdoor space for small- and micro-businesses to safely sell their products. With the help of local businesses and residents, it opened a pop-up marketplace in an abandoned plot of land.

At IJ, we are constantly inspired by the courageous and ambitious entrepreneurs we work with. And like them, we will keep responding to times of challenge with new tools and resources that allow hardworking people—in Chicago and throughout the nation—to earn a living and bring prosperity to their communities.

Erik Castelan is operations and community relations manager at IJ’s Clinic on Entrepreneurship.

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