Startup juicing business wins Springfield Hustles competition including $80K in funding, services

The owners of the Main Squeeze juice bar stand with some of their products, from left, Jafar Jones, Melvin Hardnick Jr, Earl Taylor, Marcus Clark and Craig Williams. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
The owners of the Main Squeeze juice bar stand with some of their products, from left, Jafar Jones, Melvin Hardnick Jr, Earl Taylor, Marcus Clark and Craig Williams. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

A business concept that aims to provide healthy drink options to the community has been declared the winner of this year’s Springfield Hustles competition.

The Main Squeeze beat out four other finalists in the "Shark Tank'' style competition that provides the winning startup $80,000 in grants and services.

They were part of a group of over 30 people who made video pitches to representatives of Springfield Hustles throughout the second year of the competition.

Main Squeeze’s pitch to address an important topic that deals with peoples' health as well address needs in the community gave them a huge advantage, said Rob Alexander, an organizer of the competition and the executive director of the Small Business Development Center in Springfield.

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Alexander said that those behind the business idea inspired the panel of three judges. They presented themselves as ordinary people who wanted to expand the access of healthier food options in the community, especially in a part of Springfield that is classified as a food desert.

The business venture sells juices extracted from fresh fruits and vegetables.

Earl Taylor and Craig Williams, who represented the company in the competition, along with their friends Marcus Clark, Melvin Hardnick and Jafar Jones developed a plan over a year ago to make the idea of selling healthy juices a reality.

They started making sales this year, with juices showcased at a mobile stand.

“We want to be sure that they are able to see us. The brand is focused on the community. We move how the community allow us to move,” Taylor said.

Taylor added that it is important for them to provide healthy options to residents, especially those who live on the south side. That part of town is the largest food desert in the city.

A food desert is classified as an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food.

The 30 competitors submitted ideas to Springfield Hustles in September to kick off the contest. From there, 13 ideas were selected and those behind them worked on fleshing out business plans for a shot at being a finalist.

Springfield Hustles was first rolled out in the area in 2019 with the idea of boosting local entrepreneurs who either already had a business or were looking to start one.

The idea to host the competition came from larger conversations centered around revitalization efforts in the city, particularly in the downtown area, Alexander said.

Williams, with Main Squeeze, said they first heard about the competition last year, but had missed the deadline to register. When the opportunity to compete in the competition presented itself this year, they decided to take it.

This year’s prize package included a total of $80,000 in grants as well as local services. That includes a $25,000 in business capital provided through a collection of local donations as well as a $3,000 micro loan from the Small Business Development Center.

By winning this year’s Springfield Hustles competition, those with Main Squeeze will have the funds needed to purchase a food truck that will allow them to reach more people. They will also have services provided to their business that will give them a better chance at sustainability, Taylor said.

The other finalists in this year’s competition were:

  • Brian True pitched Table Talks. The goal is to provide a board game café in the area with a library of more than 100 board games.
  • Rebekah Hart and Audrey Vanzant pitched Floral and Flourish. The goal is provide a floral service that offers both art and entertainment.
  • Gabi Odebode, pitched Afromeals. The idea is to have a restaurant that offers African and Caribbean cuisine as well as cooking classes and other products.
  • Stone Nickerson, pitched Everyday Angler. The goal is to open a community-based store, with a physical location that focuses on fishing.
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The competition was close this year, as the five finalist brought forward strong proposals, Alexander said.

The services included in the overall prize package were donated by local businesses.

“We are now able to move forward about a year or two in our business plan,” Williams, with Main Squeeze, said.

Services that will be provided also include marketing, advertising, a website, accounting and tax services as well as legal consultation.

Taylor and Williams said that the services included in the prize package will offer them the largest boost, noting that it will give them additional knowledge that they can share with other aspiring entrepreneurs.

By being more mobile and getting more of the product out to the community, Taylor says it gives them a great opportunity to build more connections with residents.

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