Laci Rains, of She's Native, and Jessica Connelly, of Jessica Rae's Cake and Sweet Treats, tied for first place during the Moniteau Regional Economic Development Council's (MRED) Start Up Moniteau LaunchU Competition.
For the past few months, local business owners participated in MRED's StartUp Moniteau program, a class dedicated to guiding and teaching business owners who are just starting out in the area. The program concludes with MRED's LaunchU competition, an event where entrepreneurs pitch their respective business models to win seed for their venture.
Winners are judged by their fellow constants as part of the competition. Rains and Connelly won $2,500 each in seed money for their respective pitches. According to the winners, the seed money will be dedicated to their business' exposure and investment, respectively.
She's Native and Jessica Rae's Cake and Sweet Treats are two very different businesses. One specializes in promoting other Mid-Missouri establishments while the other specializes in baked goods. However, where they are similar lies in the motivation and enthusiasm the owners for their businesses.
Rains said what motivated her to start her business began with the passion she feels when connecting to the community and the small businesses that make it up.
In a message to the Democrat, Rains explained She's Native is a Mid-Missouri subscription box that features local small businesses.
"We offer six themed boxes a year that feature a variety of items from those businesses," Rains said. "Included is everything from fashion and home decor all the way to baked goods and gift cards. We offer a really unique way for the community to discover and support small businesses in a more personal way. We also offer customized corporate gift boxes."
She said a goal of She's Native is to host a "She's Native Market" so customers can shop for these small businesses in a live setting.
"That is in the works and we are so excited to share it with everyone soon," Rains said.
Ultimately, Rains said the money will be used to help bring exposure to featured businesses within the boxes. She's Native's next goal is to eventually bring the concept to larger cities and states.
Rains said MRED's marketing section was her main takeaway during the Start Up program. However, she looks forward to the relationships she's built with others throughout the experience.
"Start Up Moniteau was such a well rounded program. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have taken it," Rains said. "The relationships that have come out of the class are amazing as well. We were all rooting for each other the whole time. We are all planning to stay in touch and work together on some level in the future, which I love."
Rains' co-winner, Connelly, said she will be using her seed money to share business as well.
"The money I received will be a true investment in sharing my business name and solutions with the California community and surrounding areas," Connelly said. "I plan to invest in a website, expand my social media footprint, and brand every sweet treat box that is shared with my customers."
Connelly began baking when she was young. Connelly said she started decorating desserts when she was eight years old during her time in 4-H club. What initially began as a hobby, that she would share with her friends and family, began to grow when she received interest from others for baked goods through social media.
"After sharing some pictures of my sweet treats with others, I quickly started getting more and more requests to bring desserts to their events too," Connelly said. "After looking at all the benefits, I decided to officially take my hobby to a small business and I'm excited to consider 2023 my first official year in business."
Connelly said she takes orders for decorated desserts with her primary menu including cakes, cupcakes, and decorated sugar cookies.
"I do offer larger events a full dessert bar option with two to three primary sweet treats and then fill in with smaller accents that go over well," Connelly said. "I'm not shy to try new things, as long as the order is placed far enough in advance to perfect those new recipes."
Although Connelly plans to keep Jessica Rae's Cake and Sweet Treats as an in-home bakery, she said she wants to continue growing her business into a profitable side hustle as she introduces new recipes and options to customers. Like Rains, she will be integrating skills from MRED's program, such as marketing, to her business.
"I joined the class knowing financials was where my knowledge lacked the most, but I learned valuable information in every single session," Connelly said. "We were able to build a network with business professionals in marketing, legal, finance, and so much more. I have already put into practice some of the wonderful marketing and advertising ideas we discussed and am moving forward with officially filing my LLC paperwork."
Rains and Connelly act as both the first and second place winners for the completion. Levi Hensley, representing his business Midwest Silage and Ag Services, placed third for the completion and won $1,750. Sister team Angela Whitaker and Courtney Gardner, representing their business Party Time Slushee Co., placed fourth for the competition and won $1,250.