The second annual Pitch Your Plan business competition was held July 8 in a virtual format, similar to most events since COVID-19 hit.

Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission started Pitch Your Plan in 2019, a three-part contest for entrepreneurs and business owners to present a for-profit business idea to a 12-person steering committee.

This year, seven expansion and 14 startup applications were accepted. Once the steering committee selected 10 semi-finalists in March, the group met both virtually and face-to-face for a small business development bootcamp.

After presenting their updated plans, five judges selected five finalists to present their polished pitches over Zoom. The event was recorded and uploaded to livingalexarea.org/pitchyourplan.

“The contestants did a really good job adapting, and we’re excited that they still wanted to move their businesses forward, even with COVID-19,” said Abby Strom, Community and Workforce Development Coordinator for the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission.

Wood Mulch Log was named the startup winner, and Minnesota Tongue Tie Center, an addition to Rauk Family Dentistry, was named the expansion winner.

“I’m thankful for our business environment here in Alexandria,” said Kim Rauk, founder of Rauk Family Dentistry. “That was something that brought me here when I opened my business in 2004, and it just feels great that it continues here 16 years later.”

Expanding the existing

Rauk reopened her business May 27 after being closed for two months, and she said June was her busiest month in the last year.

“They’re still having dental problems; they’re still having nursing problems,” Rauk said. “And it seems that COVID is not keeping them away.”

Rauk started offering tongue and lip tie procedures three years ago. By using a specific type of laser, these ties can be removed to prevent problems mothers have with breastfeeding. Most commonly seen in infants, a tongue or lip tie is a restriction of the frenum, a piece of skin located between the lip and the upper jaw or the tongue and the floor of the mouth.

Moving forward, Rauk would like to add more private spaces to her office so that mothers can feed their babies immediately after the procedure and so she can make room for more appointments.

Rauk said she looks forward to taking in more babies and having the opportunity to treat older children as well. If the procedure is not done during infancy, children require more therapy before and after. She would also like to expand consulting programs within her building so that mothers could make an appointment, be evaluated on site, go through with the procedure and have a support person present immediately following.

Rauk experienced pain when she breastfed all four of her children, which is why she wanted to learn more about tongue and lip tie procedures and offer them at her own office.

“I really truly feel that sometimes God has us suffer and turns that into something good,” Rauk said during her presentation.

From the ground up

Bryan Asche, winner of the business startup category, came up with the idea for Wood Mulch Log because of the time and effort that it takes him to run two wood-burning fireplaces for his family in the winter.

Through his research, Asche found that the substitution of Wood Mulch Logs in place of firewood would be more efficient. Rather than collecting, stacking and maintaining misshapen logs, Asche’s new business will reuse mulch and other timber waste to create a compressed, easily stackable version of firewood.

“Collaborating with individuals in these (local) businesses would be a great way to solve two problems at once,” Asche said. “I can obtain the raw materials I need to produce the mulch logs while they dispose of their mulch and other timber waste without filling up the landfill or paying dump fees.”

Before COVID-19, Asche collaborated on this product with students and staff members at Alexandria Technical and Community College, and he hopes that this partnership will continue when school begins again in the fall.

“Uncertainty is never good when you want to start a new business, and social distancing may make collaborations a bit more challenging,” he said.

Asche is currently employed as a structural engineer, and the majority of his job revolves around formulas and building codes. However, he said he looks forward to being more creative in brainstorming ideas and growing the Wood Mulch Log business.

“It will be a new adventure for all of us,” Asche said.