Fort St. James entrepreneur Mel Chesnutt won the grand prize in the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN) Startup Business Contest last week.
Two local start-ups were selected as finalists in this year’s contest.
Chesnutt, owner of Bare Hands Landscaping and Design was the final winner, earning her new business $10,000 in prizes, including $3,000 in cash.
“I’m thrilled,” said Chesnutt after her big win. “It was a duke it out competition.”
She said her fellow contestants’ presentations were “inspiring” and she is proud to be bringing home the prize to Fort St. James.
The contest is run each year to promote and support local startup businesses in the region.
Any business which has started within the past year or ready to launch within the next six months was eligible.
Out of 10 entrants from across the entire region, the two finalists selected from Fort St. James were: Silver Springs Country Recreation and Wellness, owned and operated by Kerry and Morgan Buck, and Bare Hands.
The small business owners entered the contest in September, filling out an in-depth business plan for the judges which was the basis for their selection.
As finalists, all three entrepreneurs were given a trip to the Regional District Small Business Forum in Smithers last week, with the chance to hear speakers from across the region and from a range of backgrounds.
One talk all three entrepreneurs noted was useful for them was one by Frontier Farwest’s Derek Botchford, speaking about defining your business and market and how to use social media to your advantage.
“He was very inspiring for exactly where I’m at right now,” said Chesnutt.
All four business finalists in the contest made three-minute presentations to the forum in front of the panel of judges and then individually the finalists had to answer some questions in private for the panels.
“Even though I had practiced … it was nerve-wracking,” said Chesnutt.
“We learned a lot,” said Kerry Buck, including how to improve their business plan and how to better plan their financial expectations.
It was a “great networking opportunity but above all the business plan application process was so in depth it was a great benefit,” said Chesnutt. She said while she had filled out a business plan before the contest, there were details she had not included which helped her define and plan even better.
Morgan Buck said he felt he learned a lot at the forum about what resources are out there in the region for small businesses and can now tap into those.
Kerry and Morgan Buck opened Silver Springs in May of this year.
The couple does wagon rides, trail rides, youth development camps and Kewap (Kewap means horse in the Okanagan language Nsyilxcən) retreats as well as selling local beef.
The couple had the dream to open their recreation business for years, with Morgan recalling first talking about it with his sister when they were out for a ride when he was 12.
When Pope and Talbot shut down, he began transitioning into more tourism-related work, and the couple was finally able to open their business.
Mel Chesnutt opened Bare Hands Landscaping and Design in August, just getting her business set up towards the end of her season, but in time to get her brand established, the business set up and a website going before the beginning of next year’s busy season.
Chesnutt had also wanted to do landscaping for a long time, and starting her own business was part circumstances, part natural tendency.
“I’ve always wanted to be my own boss,” said Chesnutt. She knew she wanted to be a landscaper, and began more seriously considering opening her own business after she began an apprenticeship and realized there are few opportunities in Fort St. James to get the hours she needs to complete the apprenticeship.
So she “needed to get creative” she decided, and researched getting the hours she needed as her own boss.
So far, Chesnutt is planning on using the award money to help pay down some of the small business loan she has and to purchase some equipment for next season.
As for the other prizes like advertising, she said she will likely tuck those away until next season is about to start if she can.
She also recognized how strong her competition was.
“They’re all worthy of a grand prize in my eyes, so it was great to be up there with them,” she said.