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#UpWithHer: Texas offering cash prize in new competition for female entrepreneurs

Ladies, if you own a business, you're going to want to take a look at this opportunity.

DALLAS — 2020 was a tough year for many businesses, especially those on the smaller side. Working women especially were hit hardest by the worst effects of the COVID-19 recession, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

So now the state of Texas is offering female entrepreneurs a cash prize via a pitch competition to help them and their small businesses recover post-pandemic. 

The Governor’s Commission for Women is hosting the competition, which will give female business owners cash for any post-pandemic relief or infusion they need into their business.

The commission offers resources to encourage, support and supplement women-owned businesses and initiatives. 

To qualify for the competition, business owners must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  1. Business is at least 51% owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a woman or women.
  2. Business made $1,000,000 or less in revenue in 2020.
  3. Business employed 15 or less in 2020.
  4. Business must be registered in the State of Texas.
  5. Must have operated for more than 12 months.

The deadline to submit a pitch varies based on which region of the state of the business is located in. The deadlines are as follows:

June 30: Central Region

July 14: West Region

Aug. 4: South Region

Sept. 1: North Region

Sept. 15: East Region

One winner will be chosen from each region of Texas and will receive a $7,500 award. For more information and to check out the application, click here.

The commission is also introducing a free webinar series in tandem to empower female business leaders in Texas. The series is for all industries and levels, and is also where the pitch winner will be announced.  

The competition is made possible by Sempra Energy's support of the Beacon State Fund.

Dallas entrepreneur Ashlee Kleinert was appointed to the commission last year. She owns Ruthie’s Rolling Café and Baldo’s Ice Cream and Coffee near Southern Methodist University.  

Kleinert doesn't believe enough business owners are aware of the resources the commission offers. 

"So, the website for the Governor's Commission is one resource that I don't think is utilized," she explained. "It covers everything: if you need a license for your business, if you need a loan, there are angel investors that will invest in businesses. If you need help with any kind of certification, employment, training. Anything that you would need is on this website." 

Kleinert also shared a few other free business resources she likes to refer back to herself.

"There's a podcast called Side Hustle for small business," she said. "I love the TED app, like TED talks, because there's so many authors and speakers out there, and you may not have time to read a whole book. I think that's a great and underutilized resource that's also free."

TED talks are also a great way to learn some of the finer points of presenting, but when it comes to pitching, there is one thing that Kleinert says can really help a business owner stand out.  

"One way to stand out [is] if you are giving a pitch talk about solving a problem, like the root of a problem," she explained. "We have a lot of ideas on the end of the stream. But if you're solving a problem, what is the root of the problem."

She also warns that there is a delicate balance between being conceited and confident. 

"Being overconfident, you want to see confidence, but you want to see that someone is aware that they don't know everything, because they don't," Kleinert said. 

Presenters also shouldn't fixate too much on the details.

"Not being able to articulate in a very concise manner, so if you get stuck in the minutia or you're wandering around in your talk, it's hard to follow," she explained. "You might know what you're saying, but it's hard for others to understand.

Best way to avoid those pitfalls?

"Practice, practice, practice. Listen to critique and video yourself repeatedly." 

While the competition is focused on getting past the pandemic, many already lost their businesses and others are still struggling to stay afloat. The pandemic brought into question plenty of uncertainty, and while the pandemic was an extraordinary circumstance, there are ways business owners can prepare for the unknown.

"I heard something that made a lot of sense to me," Kleinert advised. "Keep a notebook, keep some sort of records of how you operate, even though you know it in your head, just have it written down somewhere. Customer service is huge. For us, we are in the service business, so our relationship with our customers was key during the pandemic."

And when it comes to hiring, she says there are certain practices she follows to get great employees.

"I try to find a business that I want to emulate, that I heard everyone who works there loves it or they have the best customer service in town. I get on Indeed or some of these job posting sites, and I see how they describe the job to people. I use the same words that they’re using, but then a lot of it is who you do hire." 

But ultimately it all comes down to finding the right fit.

"I hire passion over pedigree. So, if the person has the right fit culturally. I can teach you how to make a grilled cheese sandwich, we can teach you how to scoop ice cream so, we must have the right people on the bus and find the places for them later," Kleinert explained. 

To learn more about the competition and the commission, click here.

This story was edited by WFAA Digital Producer Jennifer Prohov.