November 02, 2021

This article originally appeared in the Providence Journal on October 27, 2021.

What an amazing experience last week to watch the owners of five small businesses making their pitch for $10,000 in prize winnings and the the honor of being Rhode Island&'s first champion in the Sam Adams Brewing the American Dream Pitch Room Competition.

I was lucky enough to be one of five judges to choose the winner — Aura Fajardo of Aura&'s Chocolate Bar which has a shop at 250 East St. in Cranston. She took home $8,000 which she will use to buy more chocolate tempering equipment to increase her production. She also has plans to buy a machine that will allow her to process cacao beans imported from her native Venezuela.

She will receive business coaching from the Sam Adams program as well.

In a surprise twist, the other four competitors were each given $1,000 each and awarded coaching as well. They are Amber Jackson for her Black Leaf Tea and Culture Shop; Sam Chesebrough for Pickily, his pickled veggie business; Carissa Wills-DeMello for Town Farm Tonics; and Debbie Wood for We Be Jammin&', a Warwick shop at 3630 West Shore Rd., that offers a wide variety of jams, sauces and condiments and provides a business working with her autistic son Jason.

Jennifer Glanville, brewer and director of brewery programs at Sam Adams, who led the judging, said the votes were so close, it was the right call. The program usually awards only the top two runners-up.

The other judges were Justin DeShaw of Centreville Bank, Doris De Los Santos of The Center for Women and Enterprise R.I. and chef TJ DelleDonne of Johnson & Wales University.

Hope & Main hosted a live online broadcast of the event which added a lot of excitement to the fast paced proceedings. You can view the recording online. It&'s posted on the Facebook page for Hope & Main.

Each of the small business owners had two minutes to pitch their passion and plans before answering judges&' questions and getting feedback.

You can learn more about all of the businesses on Instagram and Facebook social media at @auraschocolate, @theblackleaftea, @pickilyfoods, @townfarmtonics and @webejamminri.