Gauntlet Competition awards $250,000 to entrepreneurs

Dustin McCarty (with check) of Vinton, owner of Ridgeline Aquatics won $5,585 in cash and prices in the 2018 Gauntlet Competition. He raises and sells aquacultured coral.
Jason Bishop, Barry Robertson, and Andy Bishop (shown left to right holding check), owners of Twin Creeks Brewing Company in Vinton, won third place in the 2018 Gauntlet Competition winning cash and prizes worth over $16,000. This is their second time in the competition, winning first place in 2016.
Winner of first place in the 2018 Gauntlet Competition was entrepreneur Pugazhenthi Selvaraj (far left) of Advance Energy Solutions.

The Gauntlet Business Program and Competition wrapped up its highly successful fourth year by distributing $250,000 in cash and prizes at the awards ceremony on May 17.

The Advancement Foundation (TAF) was founded by Annette Patterson about 10 years ago with the vision of “creating an entrepreneurial system that fosters small business development.” TAF leverages its non-profit position and partners with communities in building infrastructure, coordinating support systems, and harnessing resources to help those small businesses survive and thrive.

Four years ago, TAF and Patterson launched the Gauntlet program with just 15 entrepreneurs and $15,000 in prizes. It has now grown into Virginia’s largest business program and competition.

Their original theory was that “if we orchestrate opportunities for ambitious entrepreneurs and leverage the time, talent, and treasure readily available in our communities, we could create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that would improve the success of every community across the Commonwealth.”

Year by year the Gauntlet program has expanded from Vinton to include Roanoke County, Botetourt County, and now the Alleghany Highlands.

The 2018 Gauntlet awards ceremony was held at the Vinton War Memorial where many of the Gauntlet classes took place. This year The Advancement Foundation added Gauntlet classes in the Alleghany Highlands at Dabney Lancaster Community College as well.

Gauntlet sessions for 2018 began in February with 103 entrepreneurs, assisted by over 200 faculty and mentors in Roanoke and Botetourt Counties and the Alleghany Highlands. After 10 weeks of classes, 41 businesses (which involved 71 of the entrepreneurs) submitted business plans to enter the final competition for the $250,000 in cash and prizes. All were awarded prizes announced at the awards ceremony by Patterson and emcee Becky Freemal, who has been with TAF almost since the beginning and serves as TAF board chair.

The top 10 winners at the Platinum Level were:

  • First Place: Advance Energy Solutions, entrepreneur Pugazhenthi Selvarj, $23,450 ($12,000 in cash, along with $4,000 in legal advice from Baker Law Firm, $1,000 in HR and accounting services from Top Shelf Accounting, $1,250 for five hours of business counsulting from Andrew Crotts, $1,000 in financial advising from Virginia Community Capital, $300 for three hours of verbal Chinese translation from Dreyer Academy, $500 for assessments and coaching from Cortax Leadership, and a two-year HIVE membership worth $2,400.) This firm specializes in providing design, manufacturing, and testing of control panels for renewable energy generation, transformers, grid monitoring, and protection to improve grid reliability and renewable system efficiency.
  • Second Place: Alleghany Outdoors, owners of Twin Rivers Outfitters on the James River, $18,350 ($8,000 in cash and the remainder in prizes), now opening Alleghany Outdoors on the Jackson River offering rentals and day packages for biking, kayaking, canoeing, tubing and camping
  • Third Place (a tie): Twin Creeks Brewing Company of Vinton; owners Andy and Jason Bishop and Barry Robertson, $16,010 ($7,000 in cash, remainder in prizes), expanding microbrewery in Vinton
  • Third Place (a tie): Southern Hills Homebrew Supply, $16,750 ($5,000 in cash, remainder in prizes), offering supplies for home brewing
  • Fourth Place: BOCO Fit Rage owned by Kristen Reimer, $10,485 ($3,000 in cash, remainder in prizes), a group fitness, nutrition, and wellness program in Botetourt
  • Fifth Place: Eco Brew Tours, owned by Lisa Sink and Bryan Johnson, $10,585 ($2,500 in cash, remainder in prizes), operating a tour company that will bus you around the region for river adventures and brewery outings
  • Sixth Place: Couture Unicorn, owned by Rachel Lucas, $5,400 ($2,000 in cash, remainder in prizes), Roanoke’s first mobile fashion bus
  • Seventh Place: The Farm at Glen Haven, $5,070, ($2,000 in cash, remainder in prizes), wedding and music venue in Clifton Forge
  • Eighth Place: Total You Health, owned by Linda Bailey, $5,255 ($1,500 in cash, remainder in prizes), a new business in Roanoke County offering a specialized light therapy for pain relief, injury recovery, and weight loss
  • Ninth Place: Brown Hound Tree Service owned by Carrie Poff, $5,385 ($1,500 in cash, remainder in prizes), a tree removal service in Roanoke County as well as talented wood carvers and artists that re-purpose the removed trees

Other entrepreneurs from the Vinton area participating in this year’s Gauntlet program include:

  • Star City Renovations owned by Dyra and Doug Hodges, $3,905 in prizes on the Bronze Level, remodeling and flipping houses
  • Osoro’s Kitchen, owned by Purity Osoro, $3,905 in prizes on the Bronze Level, mobile and catering service featuring authentic Kenyan dishes
  • Farmburguesa, Ashley Overbay, $2,385 in prizes on the Silver Level, farm to table burger restaurant opening in downtown Vinton
  • Stratford Properties, Liam Davis and Maureen Gasink, $4,517 in prizes, Silver Level, real estate
  • White Electrical Services, Mike White, $3,635 in prizes, Silver Level, electrical services
  • Nite Owl Artz, Sherri Winkler, $4,405 in cash and prizes Gold Level, professional graphic design, print and website services to businesses and non-profits
  • Big Lick Screen Printing, Marj Eastering, $3,885 in prizes, Gold Level, creative design and screen printing studio
  • Ridgeline Aquatics, Dustin McCarty, $5,585 in cash and prizes, Gold Level, ethics-driven, premiere tank-raised coral business.

During the awards program, Patterson recognized the main sponsor, State Farm, who provided not only funding, but mentors and faculty. She commended community and Economic Development officials from the localities involved in the program with special thanks for Vinton Town Manager Barry Thompson, Assistant Town Manager/Economic Development Director Pete Peters, Chasity Barbour, Robbin Reams, and Sherri Winkler from the Vinton War Memorial, Vinton Mayor Brad Grose, and Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Angie Chewning for the support the Town of Vinton has shown to TAF and the Gauntlet program since its inception.

Patterson commented that “the Town of Vinton, battling the same economic challenges that every small town faces, stepped out and allowed TAF to use a piece of property to establish Roanoke County’s first Business Incubation Center, provided space at the Vinton War Memorial for classes, workshops, and the awards ceremony, along with providing sponsorships and encouragement. The town shared what they have to foster innovative ideas that help people advance their lives.”

Peters and Barbour accepted the COG Award for Small Business Advocacy from Patterson for the War Memorial and the town offices.

Patterson also recognized her staff, Kathleen Carr, Kelly Robertson Turner, Judy Wood, and Missy Dalton— small in number, but “faith-filled authentic women determined to have a real impact.”

Several of the Gauntlet entrepreneurs spoke during the ceremony about their journey through the program this year, and expressed their gratitude to TAF, their mentors, the faculty, and their fellow entrepreneurs for their support and encouragement.

Many Vinton area organizations and businesses contributed to prizes for the Gauntlet Competition. The Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce offered one-year memberships for those in the area; TAF offered HIVE memberships; Sherri Winkler from Nite Owl Artz offered website development services; the Vinton War Memorial offered the venue for hosting one event; Magnets USA contributed customized magnetic calendars; Big Lick Screen Printing donated apparel; Lindsey McCarty Photography offered a photography package; Neely’s Accounting Services donated accounting services; the Town of Vinton donated parking for two vans for Eco Brew Tours; and Dreyer Academy offered Chinese translation services.

Registration will begin at the end of the year for the 2019 Gauntlet program. More information is available at

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