RISE Collaborative Announces 2023 Business Pitch Competition Winners

$18,500 in prize funds awarded to Southern Virginia entrepreneurs and business owners

RISE Collaborative hosted its inaugural regional Business Pitch Competition on March 28, 2023, from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston, Virginia. The event featured 13 businesses competing in either the Startup or Grow categories, for a chance to win a portion of $18,500 in total prize funds. The four-hour competition featured a fast-paced format, with each team having five minutes to pitch their business and another five minutes for questions from the judges.

An awards event was held virtually on April 4, 2023, at 6:00pm to announce the winners. Eight Southern Virginia businesses and entrepreneurs were awarded prizes. The prize funds included $15,000 divided among the winning businesses in the Startup and Growth categories. A total of $2,500 was given from the SOVA Female Founders Fund for Women-Owned Businesses. Additionally, $1,000 was given as a Rising Star Award to a young entrepreneur.

Awards Event Video

RISE Collaborative recognizes the contribution of the judges, who gave their time and expertise to support this regional entrepreneurial ecosystem event.

Judges were tasked with the evaluation of each of the competitors’ business plans, financial statements, and in-person pitch presentations. Priority was given to businesses whose application materials and pitch demonstrated customer-market fit, financial feasibility, and potential to impact the Southern Virginia regional economy.
The panel of judges for this event included:
  • Dr. Julie Brown – Vice President of Advanced Learning at IALR and Co-Owner of 2 Witches Winery and Brewing Company in Danville, VA
  • Bridget Flannagan – Co-Owner of A Great Escape Salon in Farmville, VA
  • Hope Harris-Gayles – Director of Communications at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston, VA and regional Marketing Consultant at Longwood SBDC
  • Vandy Jones – Regional Director of the Crater SBDC of Longwood University, based in Petersburg
  • David Kenealy – Interim Chief Workforce Training Officer at Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston, VA

Businesses that pitched at the March 28th event included:

  • RCFlyBy – Ryland Clark (Regional drone business based in Halifax, VA) 
  • The Appalachian Glamping Company – Vonita Brim (Startup concept for Patrick County, VA)
  • Sweetcakes by The Cheesecake Lady – Tara Lucas (Bakery and catering business in Martinsville, VA)
  • Valhalla Organics – Allison “Ruby” Reid-Cunningham (Farm and food product business in Halifax, VA)
  • Frankie’s Spicy Farm – Frankie Martinez Jr. and Alejandra Martinez (Hot sauce brand in Halifax County, VA)
  • Premier Endeavors – Eboni Freeman (Startup custom apparel business in Farmville, VA)
  • LEZEAL Enterprises – Jeanette Grimes (Wellness education business in Brunswick County, VA)
  • GW Custom Design – Gayl Davidson (E-commerce custom apparel business based in Halifax County, VA)
  • Toasted by Southern Plenty – Mary Bagwell (Main Street business expansion in Halifax County, VA)
  • Succor Solutions – Justin Burns (Non-profit disaster relief consulting firm based in Nottoway County, Virginia)
  • Harris & Sons Septic, LLC – Megan Throckmorton Harris (Septic service serving Halifax County, VA and surrounding areas in VA & NC) 
  • B&C Brewing Co. – Sam Bowles and Craig Titus (Startup business headquartered in Farmville, Va. with plans to open a brewery to serve Amelia County and Chesterfield County, VA)
  • Factory Street Brewing Company – Brigid Layman and Lisa Francisco (Existing brewery and event space in Halifax County, VA)

Grow Category

The Grow category included existing businesses that demonstrated a concept that would scale their business. Each of the businesses that pitched in this category is already established with customer relationships, suppliers, and marketing strategies. There was a tie for 1st place, with Valhalla Organics (Allison “Ruby” Reid-Cunningham) and RCFlyBy (Ryland Clark) each earning $5,000 to grow their businesses.

Ruby Reid, Valhalla Organics

Ruby Reid-Cunningham,

Valhalla Organics

Valhalla Organics is committed to sustainable living and has a passion for growing organic food. They produce homegrown and hand-crafted pickles and preserves which they sell to customers across the country through their website and locally through partnerships with local retail stores. This year, Valhalla is expected to double production and plans to use the winnings to procure the labels, jars, and vinegar they will need for this production season.

Ryland Clark, RCFlyBy

RCFlyBy provides quality turn-key drone picture and video services with quick turnaround times for real estate, construction monitoring, event, farming, and personal needs. Currently, RCFlyBy provides these services in Virginia and surrounding areas in North Carolina and West Virginia. As the construction of solar farms becomes more prevalent, there is increasing demand from solar developers to document these months-long construction projects. With the winnings, RCFlyBy plans to purchase an additional drone and hire its first employee who would help the business meet the growing demand for specialty drone services.

Brigid Layman and Lisa Francisco,

Factory Street Brewing Company

The third place prize of $3,000 was awarded to Factory Street Brewing Company (presented by two of the three owners, Lisa Francisco and Brigid Layman). Factory Street is Halifax County’s first craft microbrewery and is “pouring life into their small town, one pint at a time” by serving as a central gathering spot for the community. With 30% of their customers traveling from outside a 50-mile radius, they plan to use the winnings to assist in the purchase of a crowler to can their beer so that these patrons can take the taste of Factory Street with them.

Startup Category

The Startup category featured pitches from businesses that are very early in their process of becoming established and launching. Premier Endeavors (Eboni Freeman) and B&C Brewing Co. (presented by two of the three owners, Sam Bowles and Craig Titus) each received a $1,000 Startup Award.

Eboni Freeman, Premier Endeavors

Premier Endeavors provides quality custom apparel, featuring small order quantities, same-day production, and local pickup and delivery. The prize funds will be used to purchase inventory and better equipment for improved product offerings.

Craig Titus and Sam Bowles,

B&C Brewing Company

B&C Brewing Co. plans to open a brewery and cigar lounge on the Amelia County/Chesterfield County line. The winnings will be used to establish their digital presence and purchase small pieces of equipment to help launch their brand.

SOVA Female Founders Fund for Women-Owned Businesses

The SOVA Female Founders Fund for Women-Owned Businesses was created with the intention to provide additional support and encouragement to female entrepreneurs who demonstrated perseverance and grit in pursuing their vision. Winners of this category included Toasted by Southern Plenty (Mary Bagwell) and Sweetcakes by the Cheesecake Lady (Tara Lucas), who each received $1,250.

Mary Bagwell, Toasted by Southern Plenty

Toasted by Southern Plenty is an expansion of the retail business of Southern Plenty, selling gift boxes online that contain products from women-owned businesses, that are eco-friendly, are locally made, or from companies that give back. Mary Bagwell is a lifelong entrepreneur, creating crafts to sell in junior high and high school, and has owned 7 businesses as an adult. She started Southern Plenty in 2010 and has a vision of inspiring the next generation of female entrepreneurs and is invested in the success of downtown South Boston.

Tara Lucas,

Sweetcakes by the Cheesecake Lady

Sweetcakes by the Cheesecake Lady started with Tara Lucas’ love of cheesecake, and when she couldn’t find New York-style cheesecake locally, she began making her own. She has been making cheesecake for the last 20 years, incrementally growing this passion from making cheesecakes for family and friends, to selling her cheesecakes, to acquiring a local bakery and becoming the owner of Sweetcakes in Henry County in May 2022.

Rising Star Award

The Rising Star Award was created to encourage and empower young people to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams and showcase their innovative ideas.

Alejandra and Frankie Martinez,

Frankie’s Spicy Farm

This $1,000 award was presented to Frankie’s Spicy Farm (9-year-old Frankie Martinez, and his mom Alejandra Martinez). Frankie’s Spicy Farm is a hot sauce brand “made by a kid, for kids” that features hot sauces designed to introduce kids to a little bit of spice. Frankie was a completer of the RISE CO.STARTERS Generator youth entrepreneurship program.

Photography for the event was provided by In-Depth Productions, and videography was provided by Rudy’s Girl Media.

RISE Collaborative’s next events include entrepreneur meetups in Brunswick County (April 12th) and at the SOVA Innovation Hub in Halifax County (April 28th). To find out more about RISE Collaborative’s upcoming events, resources, and how to get involved, go to www.sovarise.com.


About RISE Collaborative

RISE Collaborative is a regional initiative to create a network of entrepreneurs and business service providers across Southern Virginia (GO Virginia Region 3). The initiative is co-managed by two primary entities: Longwood Office of Community & Economic Development (Farmville, Va.), which includes the Longwood Small Business Development Center (serving the region) and SOVA Innovation Hub (South Boston, Va.). RISE Collaborative provides guidance to entrepreneurs and business owners through a number of ongoing programs every year, including a virtual business bootcamp, student entrepreneurship programs, the regional Business Pitch Competition, and more. For more information, visit SOVARISE.com.

About Longwood SBDC

As a small business resource for 30 years, the Longwood Small Business Development Center’s (LSBDC) core mission is to provide education, consulting, and economic research to support potential and existing small business owners throughout Southern Virginia. The SBDC program at Longwood University is positioned as an economic development outreach program under the umbrella of the Office of Community and Economic Development. The center’s effectiveness is measured in the success of our clients. Results are measured in terms of client capital investment and jobs created. For more information, visit sbdc-longwood.com.

About SOVA Innovation Hub

The SOVA Innovation is a non-profit organization created to spark economic transformation in Southern Virginia. We bring together business and education partners to offer innovation programs that inspire people to pursue digital careers and entrepreneurship.

Our state-of-the-art in South Boston, VA includes a coworking space, a training space, and the Microsoft Experience Center. To learn more visit sovainnovationhub.com.