StartUP! Business Plan Contest winners selected

By Bill Parry

The winners of the Queens Economic Development Corporation’s 9th annual StartUP! Business Plan contests were announced earlier this month with winning entrepreneurs receiving $10,000 to jump-start their businesses. The awards cap a five-month challenge-and-instruction course.

Kew Gardens resident Esta-Joy Sydell took top honors in the “Food-based” category for Esta-Joy’s Kitchen, a gourmet baking company specializing in old-fashioned, streusel- topped, fresh fruit Buckle Cakes. She makes the preservative-free desserts with wholesome ingredients that come in transparent, eco-friendly packaging.

In the “Community” category, Astoria’s Karen Domingo-Moran and her Kidspire LLC were the winners. Through summer and weekend workshops and in-school residencies, Kidspire offers educational enrichment that inspires young minds to visualize, draw, and construct through architecture and design.

Kidspire takes place at various elementary schools in Queens now, but Domingo-Moran hopes to expand to other locations and eventually create a learning center.

Woodside’s Amy Saekow and her health-products company Tisana LLC won the “Innovations” category. Tisana offers seasonal herbal elixirs and tonics made from organic flowers, roots, leaves, berries and mushrooms. With almost no calories, these beverages are based on traditional, time-tested plant combinations known to enhance health.

“I’m really looking forward to watching the three winners as their businesses grow and grow,” QEDC Director of Marketing Rob MacKay said. “They have a great mix of creativity, organization and market research. Actually, the competition was extremely fierce this year, as many contestants had great ideas and solid business plans. So I hope that the finalists don’t get discouraged. Many of them have viable plans and bright futures. It’s all good this year.”

Over 350 participants in this year’s contest received technical assistance and training on such business topics as pricing, marketing, and tax filing while enjoying access to entrepreneurial resources at Queens Library in Jamaica. More than 35 teams submitted business plans to selected judges who determined the winners. The contest is supported by a grant from the Citi Foundation. “Competitions such as StartUP! foster and encourage innovation among entrepreneurs, who as a result can potentially create jobs in communities where they are needed most,” Citi Community Development market director Eileen Auld said.

One of last year’s StartUP! winners, Chris Murillo of Astoria, was driving in upstate New York in a car he bought with his winning last year. The Astoria Distilling Company’s founder was touring different cities while marketing his creation, Queens Courage gin.

“This time last year I was making deliveries by bicycle to my 20 accounts,” Murillo said. “Now that I have my gin-wagon that number has grown exponentially. I’ve got over 200 accounts now across New York and New Jersey.”

The gin is currently produced at a distillery outside of Rochester while Murillo hunts for a location for his own distillery in western Queens. “Right now we’re in the process of bringing Queens Courage back to the borough,” he said.

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