A business start-up that wants to build a shrimp farm that will also have a specialty restaurant that will serve a variety of shrimp dishes and a young food delivery business in the CNMI were each named the winners of the inaugural SEED to Sail event last Friday at the GrandVrio Resort.
Donovan Castro’s Eddy Jo’s Shrimp Shack business pitch won first place and $20,000 in seed money for the first category of the inaugural SEED to Sail event, while Clint Albert from Tech 5IVE, LL, which does business as Eats Easy won $15,000 in the second category of the business competition.
According to CNMI Small Business Development Center Network director Nadine Deleon Guerrero, SEED to Sail, or Supporting Entrepreneurs and Economic Development to Sail, competition is a guided experience for start-up and early-stage businesses to create and present a pitch to support their application to receive “seed money” to fund their small business venture.
For the inaugural program, the CNMI SBDC Network created two categories, with the first one for new and existing businesses that have been operating for at least one year and the second one is for those who have been conducting business in the CNMI for over a year.
Castro, a 33-year-old chef at the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.’s Dietary Department, presented to the judges his “Eddy Jo’s Shrimp Shack” business pitch and won first place and $20,000 for it.
He said he has “always envisioned going into the shrimp business, not only to own a shrimp shack, but to work with members and organizations in our community to revive the shrimp population.” He was inspired by a family trip to Hawaii where he had the opportunity to visit the Macky’s Shrimp Truck in Kahuku, where he was immediately inspired by their shrimp dishes.
Castro told Saipan Tribune after his Proa Award first-place win that he was “lost for words.”
“After hearing the other finalist pitches, I was thinking to myself that this is going to be a tough one,” he added.
When asked why he seemed to be emotional onstage during his presentation, he said, ”What can I say? My emotions got the best of me. Once I saw the picture of my dad on the slide, I felt as if he was right next to me. But I had to remember why I was there—not only pitch my idea but also inform the community about this enterprise, which I have savored for quite some time.”
He dedicates his win to his late father, Edward T. Diaz, and late grandfather, Jose Q. DLG, and his family.
The Culinary Arts Program graduate from NMTech encourages other potential small businesses to visit the SBDC team at NMC “and turn your dream into reality and be the difference that will stimulate our local economy.”
In the second category, it was a two-way tie between Eats Easy and AP Solutions, so each got $10,000, but both Northern Marianas College and University of Guam decided to throw in another $5,000 each, so both winners got $15,000 each.
Albert told Saipan Tribune after his win that, he was “super nervous going up on stage but those feelings were replaced with the overwhelming love and support we got from the crowd..”
When asked what the plans were for his win, he said, “We plan to use [the] bulk of the money for development of Version 3 of Eats Easy; some of it [for] the renovation of our meeting and training room, and remaining for cash flow and salary budget.”
Albert’s Tech 5IVE is the company behind the brands Eats Easy and La Mesa Kusina.
The CNMI SBDC Network had five finalists present under the businesses operating for at least a year category, while eight entries made the grade for the second category. Prizes were awarded for the Top 3 in the first category and only one winner was selected in the second category.
Category one’s Tinanom Award, or second place and $10,000 went to Jiaxin Liang of Saipan Studio, LLC, and the Dinekko’ Award, or third place and $5,000 went to Ray Muna of 6th Place Smoke BBQ.
Deleon Guerrero said after the event, “As any business owner knows, the work does not stop. We look forward to continuing the work with them on their new journey to see how far this program takes them.”