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Englewood Quality-of-Life Business Competition Announces Winners

Cookie samples from FBG Cookies & Company are passed to judges and attendees.

Photos by Annie Grossinger


A cookie company. A fitness studio. A nutritious catering service. A microbrewery. A construction project management team. Two insurance companies and, a wellness company. More than 50 people attended the Englewood Quality-of-Life Business Competition on Saturday, December 15th to watch eight Englewood-based companies compete for a grand prize of $10,000 from Whole Foods.

“Real capital gives the average person a chance to get over the hump,” said Perry Gunn, the executive director of Teamwork Englewood.

Thirty-six companies entered the competition. After initial rounds in front of a selection committee, the finalists were whittled down to nine. However, one couldn’t make the final round of competition.

“I was impressed by the quality,” said Gunn. “Each round was competitive.”

The finalists

  • Eddie Downs of FBG Cookies & Company, a full-service bakery café that provides high-quality healthier goods at an acceptable price.
  • Andrea Natay Dane of Forever Fitness Chicago, LLC, a health and wellness company that is expanding to provide packaged fruits and vegetables in vending machines.
  • Michelle D. Flagg, Redacre Solutions, Inc., a project management company.
  • Ronda Hale Johnson of NU Horizon Insurance, a multi-line insurance service.
  • Sonia Kennedy of EW360, a health and wellness company.
  • Cherice Price of Cherice Price Insurance, a professional insurance brokerage company.
  • Lesley Roth and Steve Marchese of Opus Niche, Inc. doing business as Englewood Brews, a microbrewery and taproom.
  • Alexis Williams, Let Us Serve You, a nutritious catering company.

Walter Robb listens to a finalist answer one of his questions.


Walter Robb, Co-CEO, Whole Foods Market, and one of the judges, opened the competition.

“The power of really believing in someone, that they can do something, is powerful,” he began.

Each finalist had a few minutes to make their pitch. Then, the floor was opened to the panel of judges for questions, who included Robb; Andrea L. Zopp, Deputy Mayor & Chief Neighborhood Development Officer, City of Chicago; Maria Guerra Lapacek, Commissioner, City of Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection; and, Edward and Shirley Calahan, Calahan Funeral Home. Afterwards, the judges scored each finalist on a scale of 1 to 10. Scores from the previous rounds were then factored into an overall score, which produced the winners. 

The winners

The prizes were awarded as follows:

  • $10,000 Winner: Englewood Brews
  • $10,000 Runner-up: FBG Cookies & Company
  • $10,000 Third Place: Forever Fitness Chicago
  • $2,500: Cherice Price insurance, EW360,
  • $1,600: Let Us Serve You, NU Horizon Insurance, Redacre Solutions

Judge Edward Calahan from Calahan Funeral Home displays a score for Michelle D. Flagg.

“This will be a fast-paced year of getting folks on-board,” said Lesley Roth, in regards to her winning business plan. “We’ll be looking for investors and a space that has good synergy with the other businesses. It’s a relationship-building process.”

Part of what made the judges pick Englewood Brews was that it proposed a multi-tiered system, where hops farming and brewing would create jobs and the beer would increase tourism. “This is an opportunity in the community for other entities to get involved in the farming of hops and partner with Englewood Brews,” Roth added. “Englewood Brews would be a champion for this burgeoning industry in Englewood and of course, will buy the hops produced.”

“They knew their product and target audience,” said Calahan. “They knew where they were going to market and what level of profit to expect. They were great presenters with a clear sense of passion. Truthfully, the top three were all just superb.”


Andrea Natay Dane pitches her company, Forever Fitness Chicago, LLC, a health and wellness company that is expanding to provide packaged fruits and vegetables in vending machines.


“We put so many hours into this competition,” said Roth. “It took a lot of soul-searching.” While the brewery is in its nascent form, Roth and Marchese have already decided on a flagship beer: a cream ale.

Williams of Let Us Serve You is also ready to put her prize money to use. The funds will be put towards the packaging and labelling of her drink and muffin products. To date most of the company has been self-funded. Williams, a former risk management professional, left her corporate job for her own start-up in what she describes as a “huge leap of faith.”

“I had no idea where I’d end up,” she said.

She was encouraged to apply to the competition by a member of her church.

“I wanted to compete because I need Let Us Serve You to be known, but I also need the money to expand,” said Williams. “This is my business, but also my passion.”


Dr. Sonia Kennedy of EW360 hands out sample products to the judges.


Though Williams’ company didn’t place first, Teamwork Englewood and the judges are committed to assisting all the finalists.

“When we support each other, we create a greater and stronger tax base, better schools and better businesses,” said Calahan. “I’m going to support them going forward, but they also need to support each other.”

“I hope this becomes an annual event,” said Gunn. “Throughout the rounds, you could see how invested everyone was, from the contestants to the business coaches. It was like therapy to them.”

The Business Competition was born from the Jobs and Economic Development task force, which was created by Teamwork Englewood and the Englewood Quality-of-Life Plan committee. The task force was charged with identifying economic development opportunities such as businesses that could help create a viable and sustainable local economy in the heart of Englewood. The $40,000 in seed funding was donated by Whole Foods.

Posted in Economic Development, Englewood

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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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