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In first-ever Carroll Biz Challenge tie, audience chooses winner

In the Carroll Biz Challenge's first-ever tie, the audience decided the winner, picking Enter Exit Escape for the final $5,000 prize.

In its fifth year, the Carroll Biz Challenge confronted a new problem: What to do when the judges can't decide between two equally qualified candidates? For the challenge's first-ever tie, organizers allowed the audience to decide the winner, between escape room company Enter Exit Escape and the Maryland Wine Company, with Enter Exit Escape taking home the final $5,000 prize.

Enter Exit Escape is an escape room company owned by Kristin Ellis and Lisa Yzaguirre. In an escape room, visitors are locked into a room together and have to solve a series of themed puzzles to escape. Ellis said she hopes to open a physical location in Carroll County by the start of next year.

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"It's such an exciting moment," Ellis said. "It feels great that the judges specifically brought up the presentation polish. My husband must have heard me give this presentation 100 times."

The Carroll Biz Challenge was launched five years ago by Jason Stambaugh, who also served at the host of the evening, as a way to support small businesses and entrepreneurs. Stambaugh said in an interview that small businesses are the lifeblood of a community and it's vital to provide them any support you can.

"Everyone knows it's small businesses that sustain a vibrant community," Stambaugh said. "We're celebrating them with this while providing the help they need."

The finalists included Enter Exit Escape; Maryland Wine Cellars, which looks to bring wine making to members of the public; Fermentation Creation, which will sell fermentation kits; Once Upon a Crumb, a bakery dedicated to providing specialty-made and inclusive baked goods; and Panta Rhei, which has created its own line of specialty beverages.

Enter Exit Escape wasn't the only winner of the evening, as existing decor, apparel and gifts store Cultivated, in downtown Westminster, took home the $2,000 downtown award. And out of the finalists, Once Upon a Crumb won the $500 People's Choice Award, which attendees of the final ceremony voted on.

In celebration of the Biz Challenge's fifth year, the evening opened with a video celebrating past competitions and winners, while introducing the evening's competitors. After some brief opening remarks, the businesses' creators had the opportunity to pitch their vision to the audience in just five minutes. After each presentation the audience and judges were invited to ask logistical questions, inquiring about business plan specifics and business owner goals while filling in other gaps from the presentation in just seven minutes.

The four judges were Mike Gibble, of Gibble Enterprises Holdings; Michael Goldstein, of Ting; Josh Kohn, of Kohn Creative; and Amy Wallace, of the Small Business Development Center.

Stambaugh said judges are asked to look into the basics of each business model and their feasibility and likelihood of success.

"We're looking for the things that make a business a success," Stambaugh said. "We're looking at things from creativity to clarity of purpose to market potential."

Goldstein said he was incredibly impressed by the line up of businesses Thursday.

"We've had a great range of ideas," he said. "We've got five different businesses and none of them seem to be anything like any of the rest."

Goldstein said he was incredibly impressed with the Enter Exit Escape concept.

"They're hopping on a fun and popular trend that's still in its early stages," Goldstein said. "It's all about execution and the experience itself. My background is in marketing, and I know there's money to be made by tapping into the right corporate people and hosting birthday parties and the like."

Carroll Biz Challenge winners:

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Grand Prize: Enter Exit Escape

Downtown Award: Cultivated

People's Choice Award: Once Upon a Crumb

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Twitter.com/Jacob_deNobel

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