There are just over two weeks left to enter a business idea in the All Over Albany Startup Grant Contest, sponsored by Staff Ciampino & Company P.C., Certified Public Accountants. One winner will receive $1,500 from Berkshire Bank to help start up a new business, or take an existing business to the next level. You should apply. Don't wait!
Two years ago 3 Chicks and a P, a family-run hummus and tapenade business, took home the $1,500 prize in the Startup Grant Contest. Back then owner Jennifer Rittner was just starting the business with her husband Matt, and their delicious hummus recipes had become farmers' market favorites.
Today you can find their products at The Niskayuna Co-op, Honest Weight, Healthy Living Market, and the Schenectady Greenmarket. They're now preparing to move into larger markets, and Jen says their startup grant is still working for them.
It's been almost two years since you won the startup contest. How have things been going with the business?
Great! We are pumping along. We are in somewhat of a transition period now where we are looking at maybe doing some rebranding. We'll be at the Home and Garden Show at HVCC this weekend. We've expanded to a couple of non-traditional vegan pestos that are very popular and we have gotten into some other stores. We do really well in the co-op. We are looking at some repackaging to push larger distribution, but we are still working full time right now and there's definitely challenges with that.
But that's still our goal. We are also trying to get into another large farmers' market, but we have not been able to do that yet because they have other other hummus vendors.
What did you do with the grant money?
We put the money back in to the business. We were able to buy more equipment to keep up with the demand for the products. And we still have some of that money sitting there, holding on tight, to do some product labeling. Some of the larger chains like to see that, but customers also like to see it to know about nutritional value and what ingredients are in the product that they are purchasing. That is in the next phase of our growth.
That $1,500 was so helpful for a small business just starting up. It really made the difference between being able to pay your mortgage or not that month and still grow the business. That was money to help us move forward that we didn't have.
In addition to the business, the contestants walked away with a lot of advice from the judges. Was there anything in particular they said to you that proved particularly useful or true?
One of the judges was concerned about the family dynamic and being able to handle the stress of a family-owned business -- having small children and all. I really heard that concern and we've kept that in mind in our approach to the business. We try not to burn the candle at both ends. Do what you can do. Work slowly at a pace that works for you and don't necessarily listen to the advice of others who say you have to quit your job. We do what works for us and what works for our family.
What else did you take from the experience?
It definitely helped with connections. Seven months after the contest we had customers come to us and say, "I saw you on the AOA grant contest." Even today, nearly two years later, we have people who recognize us from that.
What is your advice for this year's contestants?
Do your market research, know your brand, know your product, and have passion for what you are doing. Passion is the key. You really have to love what you are doing because you do it 24/7.
Sometimes I have to say no to things. The home and garden show we are doing this year asked us to take part last year. But last year we just were not prepared. You have to know what you can handle.
This interview has been lightly edited.
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