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QEDC honors StartUP! business winners

Twins Laken and Carlissa King with the Queens Economic Development Corporation’s Innovation Award for the StartUP! business contest.
Courtesy of Purple Steel Productions
Naeisha Rose

Last week the Queens Economic Development Center, a non-profit that supports the growth of Queens-based businesses, announced the winners to its StartUP! Business Plan Competition at the New York Hall of Science during its annual QueensTaste event.

The five winners — Nicole Russell, Sherifa Adams, Mona Belizaire, and twins Laken and Carlissa King — were all from southeast Queens.

In order to be a part of the contest, the participants who have a start-up business that they want to grow must have a business counselor and take four classes in a four-month period in operations, planning, finance and marketing. They then must present a sound business plan in order to be selected for an investment prize, which is given by Resorts World Casino New York Cityin Ozone Park. The winners each receive a $10,000 grant after pitching their ideas to 16 judges.

“We have three categories: community (geographic or virtual), food and innovation,” QEDC Executive Director Seth Bornstein said. “You really can’t start a business from nowhere. You need a document. When you build a house, you have a blueprint. A business plan is the foundation of a business for prospective entrepreneurs to learn the basic skills when starting a business. Develop a plan before spending any money.”

The winner in the food category was Nicole Russell, of Last Dragon Pizza, whose e-commerce pizzeria was inspired by the Bruce Lee and Taimak Guarriello martial arts film “The Last Dragon.”

Her specialty pizzas are inspired by various ethnicities and have nutritious options.

“Their are the tandoori Asian barbecue and jerk chicken toppings,” Russell said. “I also have very healthy options. Gluten free cauliflower-based crust, vegan cheese, are some of the more healthy alternative pizza that is still good, still New York and still fun.”

Twins Carlissa and Laken King, 27, won the Innovation Award for their Worldgirls business which manufacturers dolls.

“It’s a doll company for girls that are on the mission to change the world,” said Carlissa, a Bayside resident. “Our dolls represent girls from around the world. Each doll is assigned one of five traits: warrior, healer, explorer, rebel and scholar. We created these traits because we wanted the girls to relate to the dolls passions and interests and less on looks.”

The sisters have been working on the dolls since 2008 and this was their third shot at applying to the contest, and their first time winning. They plan on using the money to build a website and aim to sell their first 100 dolls at the USOpen this summer.

The Community Award winners were sisters Mona Belizaire, 30, and Sherifa Adams, 27. Their swimwear company Neish, is from their mother’s family name. They plan on using their prize money to expand into a teen line. They are working on a pop-up shop to bring attention to their brand and to add plus-size swimwear to their inventory.

“I think it is amazing and I’m so grateful for QEDC for even creating this opportunity,” Adams, of Springfield Gardens, said. “I went in to learn about business so that I can make improvements. It turned out to be so much more. We can go forward with our brand.”

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