The lights dropped dramatically on the stage of the Carroll Arts Center’s gilded stage Thursday night as operatic music rolled through the speakers and a video introduced the five finalists for the 2018 Carroll Biz Challenge.
Of those, Brewery Fire went home victorious with a prize package valued at $20,261, including $5,000 in startup cash.
Dave Palmer and Jesse Johnson make up the team of brewers who are gearing up to open in Taneytown soon. They came into their pitch throwing T-shirts, slinging jokes and bearing coupons for free beer.
Staying in Carroll is important to them. They could have opened elsewhere, but they were “stubborn” about being tied to the county, they said.
“Thank you for believing in us. That’s awesome,” Palmer said as they accepted the award.
Johnson is a Manchester native, and Palmer is a 10-year Westminster resident.
Brewery Fire also won the people’s choice award after an audience vote was tallied. They were awarded a $1,500 prize. Derek Graves of Up Above Media, last year’s people’s choice winner, presented the award.
“It did give us that extra little boost at the time ... for those who are not chosen tonight, please do not give up hope,” Graves said.
Organizers praised the level of preparedness and the skills of all the pitchers.
“Rarely” do you see five pitches of that quality in one night, said host Jon Weetman of the Entrepreneur Store.
Weetman and Jason Stambaugh, founder of the Biz Challenge, served as emcees between the presentations and shared tweets about the challenge supposedly sent by celebrities from Martha Stewart to President Donald Trump.
The Biz Challenge is on its seventh year of showcasing local entrepreneurs — after putting them through a “Shark Tank”-style grilling by local business leaders who served as judges. It’s sponsored by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce with assistance from many other local businesses.
Each finalist had five minutes to pitch, followed by seven-minute question-and-answer session. The first question for each finalist came from the audience, with the others offered by the judges.
Mike Gibble of Gibble Enterprises Holdings, Trish McLean of Ting, Drew Baker of Old Westminster Winery and Amy Wallace of the Small Business Development Center sat in the judge chairs.
A 12-person advisory board helped narrow down the original volume of 24 applicants to the final five who took the stage Thursday night.
Many previous finalists and applicants filled the audience, along with familiar faces in Westminster business and government. Stambaugh said the crowd was “record-breaking.”
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Last year’s grand prize was awarded to a company then-called bookSwap, aimed at making it easier to buy and sell college books.