Gauntlet winner Lois Fritz from New Freedom Farm in Buchanan is shown with (left to right) Doug Jackson, Jay Brenchick, Ken McFadyen and Annette Patterson.
Photo by Debbie Adams
Drew Arney (front, left) and Austin Bousman (front, right), with $21,885 in cash and prizes they received at the top winners in the Gauntlet Business Competition. They own Wingman Outfitter, a company that is producing an outrigger for canoes using coolers. In the back are (from left) Doug Jackson from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Jay Brenchick from Roanoke County Department of Economic Development, Ken McFadyen from Botetourt County Department of Economic Development, and Annette Patterson, The Achievement Center and Gauntlet founder.
Photo by Debbie Adams

The 2017 Gauntlet Competition top prize went to the Botetourt-based Wingman Outfitter. The company that is owned by Austin Bousman and Drew Arney was among a number of new or newly forming businesses to receive financial and in-kind awards at the conclusion of the competition.

Wingman Outfitter received $13,000 in cash and $8,885 in in-kind prizes that will help Bousman and Arney grow their fledgling outdoor-related business that has developed an outrigger system for canoes and kayaks that uses coolers.

The Gauntlet Business Program and Competition attracted 84 entrepreneurs representing 54 different businesses who will be opening or expanding in Botetourt, Vinton and Roanoke County.

A total of $200,000 in cash and in-kind prizes was divvied up among participating businesses based on their identified needs at an awards ceremony at the Vinton War Memorial on May 18.

The Gauntlet participants completed a 12-week business program, developed a business plan, and made a presentation in front of a panel of judges.

Annette Patterson, who founded The Advancement Foundation (TAF) and the Gauntlet competition, told the crowd that the Gauntlet is the region’s largest business competition. The competition began three years ago at the Grandin Co-Lab with 14 competing entrepreneurs, moved to Vinton in 2016 with 25 participants with a focus on establishing businesses in Vinton with 25 participants, and this year expanded regionally to include Roanoke and Botetourt Counties. High school and college students were also invited to take part.

“These entrepreneurs have been part of an extraordinary community effort to engage and support small business development,” said organizers of the event. “Over 200 business leaders were involved in serving as advisors and supporting this program.”

The Gauntlet received a $70,000 grant from Governor McAuliffe’s Building Collaborative Communities through the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Many businesses also contributed to bring the cash and in-kind products and services to the $200,000 total.

TAF has aided the entrepreneurs enrolled this session also in qualifying for assistance in launching or expanding businesses through the Virginia Individual Development Accounts (VIDA) and McLeod Foundation programs which both match investments from entrepreneurs.

Doug Jackson, representing the DHCD, congratulated the entrepreneurs and thanked TAF for their monumental efforts to support local small businesses.

This year’s entrepreneurs were invited to briefly pitch their businesses at the awards ceremony and to share what they had gained from taking part in the program. Most frequently mentioned were the collaboration, camaraderie, mentorships, and networking that were a vital part of the program. One named the “constant doors being opened for you”; others said that joining the Gauntlet program gave them the motivation, push, and impetus to bring their dreams to reality.

TAF Board Chair Becky Fremal emceed the event.

Fremal, Patterson and Jackson, along with Jay Brenchick from Roanoke County Economic Development and Ken McFadyen from Botetourt County Economic Development, presented the awards and prizes based on scores and specific needs.

Gauntlet entrepreneurs were evaluated by panels of judges on their presentations (pitches) combined with scores on the feasibility of their business, their written business plan, class participation, and homework.

The Fincastle Herald has been following several of the Gauntlet participants in a series of articles: Lois Fritz with New Freedom Farm, Gray and Michelle Craig with Blue Ridge Makers Guild, Holly and Jonathan Hart with Blue Ridge Mountain Adventures, Heather Oltmanns with Twice Treasured, and Donte Larry with Guardian Angel Airsoft.

Fritz, a forensic nurse and Navy veteran, joined the Gauntlet program to learn how to make her New Freedom Farm sustainable. She established New Freedom Farm in 2016 in Botetourt County with the mission of “Healing Humans through Horses.”

She describes New Freedom Farm as a “safe place for veterans suffering from PTSD/TBI, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and secondary trauma.” The non-profit is open to all veterans and their families at no charge. They “work solely off donations and faith.”

Fritz was a Gold Level winner and awarded a total of $5,500 with $1,500 in cash and $4,000 in in-kind prizes. She was also the Audience Choice winner, chosen by the purchase of chips for votes, with half going to the winner and half to the Gauntlet program.

Gray and Michelle Craig are establishing the Blue Ridge Makers Guild as a community workshop where people can come together to learn, create, shop, and sell their custom works. Their goal is “to provide creative people of all ages and abilities with the tools and space they need to pursue their creative education and interests.” Initially they hope to offer space, tools, and classes in woodworking, metal working, and 3D technology.

The Craigs were sixth place Gold Level winners and were awarded $5,670 worth of in-kind prizes including video services, strategic planning sessions, grant-writing services, and space planning services—all of which they had requested to “move forward with our concept in lieu of cash.”

The Craigs say their next steps will be to schedule the strategic planning while they look for a suitable location.

Holly and Jonathan Hart are opening Blue Mountain Adventures to take advantage of the growing interest in outdoor recreation in the region. They were Gold Level winners receiving a total of $5,500–$1,300 in cash and $4,200 in prizes.

Heather Oltmanns is opening a children’s clothing consignment shop—Twice Treasured. She was a Silver Level winner receiving $3,320 in total–$1,000 in cash and $2,320 in prizes. Her prizes include a two-hour design space with Better Building Works, a promotional short video from Wanda Ayala, five hours of business consulting from Streamline Consulting, and financial consulting from Wendy Jones Accounting.

Oltmanns is looking for a space to rent in Vinton zoned for retail.

Donte Larry, a Marine Corps veteran, is opening Guardian Angel Airsoft (GAA) which will sell Airsoft guns and accessories and provide training courses and classes. He hopes to bring a new outdoor activity to the Roanoke Valley and a new venue to practice self-defense. His venture received $3,990 in cash and prizes. He also was awarded $500 and the Gauntlet Warrior Award for his efforts in the program.

Other Gold winners include:

  • The family-owned Stoney Brook Vineyards located in Troutville received $3,000 in cash and $9,635 in prizes.
  • Tabitha Kingery, who bakes from her Vinton home but hopes to open the Northern Lights Sweets and Treats, LLC, bakery in downtown Vinton. She won $2,000 in cash and $3,605 in prizes.
  • Thread Love, owned by William McKenzie, a clothing line that inspires people to “Put on Love,” won $2,500 in cash and $4,200 in prizes.
  • Frost Gear, a cold weather sports technologies and protective wares provider founded by Luke Aprile and becoming famous for their sports gloves, won $6,000 in cash and $10,295 in prizes.
  • Diane Rumbolt with Big Lick Boomerang won $1,300 in cash and $4,300 in prizes for her designated driver transportation services.
  • Dr. Nate and Katie Gay also won cash ($2,000) and prizes ($4,135) for their Primary Solutions Physical Therapy enterprise.
  • Mike McCormick won $6,000 in cash and $10,635 in prizes for his Corethentic Enterprises, which innovates systems and invents products for self-help and personal growth for recovery from addictions and increased personal awareness.
  • Jonathan Preedom won $4,000 in cash and $6,600 in prizes for D.O.G. Ventures which focuses on tracking technologies.

Information on the 2018 Gauntlet is available by calling Kathleen Carr at 540-283-7062.