Three-year-old Bella Hurst inspired her mother to start a home-cooked meal delivery service that led to a $5,000 cash prize this week, funds that will support Bella's Kitchen and Wellness as it expands to create lunch meals for a Little Rock middle school.
Sara Hurst, Bella's mom, was awarded top prize in the Pitch N' Pint business competition hosted by the Little Rock Venture Center and Regional Chamber of Commerce. Bella's Kitchen was one of nine new businesses that participated in this year's Spark! Small Business Accelerator initiative and all were invited to the pitch competition, judged by fellow entrepreneurs.
"The idea came from the method of feeding your baby not just purees but a little bit of everything so they can get a taste of different textures," said Hurst, who couldn't find healthy and fresh foods on store shelves and delivery services didn't measure up. "There were only frozen meals for kids and not fresh local deliveries."
Bella's Kitchen today offers freshly prepared meals for delivery to families in Little Rock and North Little Rock and the company has won a contract to begin preparing daily lunches for the entire student body and teachers at the Anthony School when classes start up again later this summer.
The prize money came just in time. "I'm going to need that to help hire some prep cooks because we'll be preparing meals for 350 students and teachers," Hurst said Friday.
Spark! provides technical support, workshops and mentorship opportunities for Central Arkansas entrepreneurs in a 10-week program. The initiative, Hurst said, was helpful in learning more about legal and accounting issues that are important to growing a business and was a confidence boost. "They really helped me push myself, which I may not have done if it wasn't for the program and the support," she added.
Applications are open for the fall Spark! session, which accepts area companies in business for 1-5 years, have a full-time founder and revenues between $25,000-$100,000.
"Seeing the growth of this cohort of companies coupled with their focused confidence at Pitch 'N Pint is why we continue to partner with The Venture Center to provide this event and the Spark! Small Business Accelerator program," Jay Chesshir, president and chief executive officer of the Little Rock Regional Chamber, said in a statement announcing the winners. "Entrepreneurial growth is certainly a replicable process. Continuing to give early-stage entrepreneurs exposure to resources that can help further their journey will benefit them and Little Rock's economic future."
A $3,000 cash prize was awarded to second-place finisher Lauren Anderson of Calm + Confidence beekeeping service and $2,000 for third place went to Crystal Haner and Nicole Snow of Enova Cosmetics.
Applications, due by Sept. 1, and more information for the fall cohort are available at venturecenter.co.