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Newark Celebrates Small Business Week 2017: 9th Annual Next Level Conference Premier business development and networking event in the tri-state returns with $10,000+ cash prize competitions and high-level networking

May 3, 2017 – NEWARK, N.J. – During Small Business Week 2017, the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership and the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation awarded $11,500 in business capital to small business owners and entrepreneurs at its 9th Annual Next Level Conference for entrepreneurs, small business owners, and business professionals, held May 1– 2 at the Newark Liberty International Airport Marriott.

This year’s $10,000 Business Plan and Pitch Competition winner was Natasha Green of WeIntervene, a resource, referral and tracking app to help school staff support students and families, and intercept those who have fallen into the school-to-prison pipeline. Tara Williams-Harrington of Bricks 4 Kidz® Essex County, won the $500 Business Pitch Bowl for entrepreneurs seeking expert feedback on their pitches. Food entrepreneurs also cooked for cash in the separate Best Chef competition. This year’s $1,000 grand prize was awarded to Lori Schlakman of Tabooze – zero-calorie, no-shake, no-stir cocktail mixers in effervescent tablet form.

“The Next Level Conference not only benefits entrepreneurs, business owners, and business professionals who attend, but also galvanizes Newark’s economic success,” said Aisha Glover, acting president and CEO of Newark Community Economic Development Corporation. “Newark is a hub for entrepreneurial activity and is the perfect city for growing businesses to expand. The resources and knowledge shared at Next Level are the perfect backdrop for businesses and entrepreneurs of all stages looking to grow and create job opportunities in Newark and beyond.”

Under this year’s Survive and Thrive theme – Rise Up, Ramp Up. Reach New Heights! – attendees explored what it takes to not only keep their businesses afloat, but also improve and grow in a rapidly changing economy and business landscape. A curated roster of top business leaders featured serial entrepreneur Melinda Emerson, “The Small Biz Lady,” and Darryl Bumpass Sr., best-selling author and motivational speaker. They and other inspiring speakers and panelists remained accessible to attendees for first-rate networking. Scheduled workshops included “Getting Customers to Choose You Over the Competition;” “Looking Beyond the Balance Sheet;” and “Getting Maximum Effort From Your Employees.” Attendees also enjoyed a performance of the pipa, or Chinese lute via Shen Yun Promotions International, and small bites and product demos from the Best Chef competitors during the popular Food Expo.

Conference organizers held this year’s event at the Newark Airport Marriott to accommodate growing attendance. Next year’s event will also be held at the Newark Airport Marriott on January 25 and 26, 2018.

“This year’s conference theme, ‘Survive and Thrive,’ reflects the state in which we see many small businesses today – struggling to survive and trying desperately to figure out how to thrive. This event is about helping entrepreneurs move beyond surviving, as well as promoting the mindset shift necessary to implement their plan,” said Jill Johnson, CEO of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership. “We are excited to partner again with Newark Community Economic Development Corporation. Their support of this innovative event demonstrates that Newark really is open for business.”


The Business Plan & Pitch Competition is the signature contest of the Next Level Conference, and offers $10,000 in expansion funding plus a free, one-year Accelerator membership with IFEL for business development support and coaching (a $280 value). The 2017 finalists included: (WINNER) Natasha Green, WeIntervene –a customizable app and online tool for school staff to intercept and support students with disciplinary infractions and other in-school challenges Angelique Michelle and Sheryl Montour, iCONiQ Style – a fashion consulting company and mobile app with virtual wardrobe, stylist, personal shopping and resale shopping services Rodney Folmar, GMF Media – a publishing, marketing and advertising company that informs and motivates the public toward a healthier lifestyle.

The Best Chef Food Expo & Competition food entrepreneurs introduced their culinary creations to conference attendees, and competed for titles in sweet, savory, and product categories. The overall winner also received a $1,000 prize. This year’s participants included:

Product Category (OVERALL WINNER) Lori Schlakman – Tabooze Bija Bhar turmeric elixir – Anjali Bhargava Brooklyn Volcano hot sauce – Annie Simmons

Savory Category (WINNER) Charnelle Bain – Simply Elegant Events Bluelicious Delights – Sharise Bailey Brooklyn Braised – Ashley Williams Exotic Food by Chef David – David Dias Health Enhanced – Caroline Egbelu Ingri Home Services – Ingri Torello WAKEMIA – Kasey Hearns

Sweet Category (WINNER) Rhonda Powell – Rolling Pin Confections Bittersweet Cake Design – Lisa Jackson Lena Mae’s Gourmet– Sharlena Powell Miss Myrtle’s Chocolate Chip Cookies – Maurice Tyson Postres Super Ricos – Silvana Restrepo Sweet Comforts Fine Cakes & Desserts – Patryce Burgess

The Pitch Bowl is a new event at the Next Level Conference and was sponsored by Wells Fargo and State Farm. Competitors pitched their business plans to a panel of business experts, lenders, and investors for one-to-one feedback and the chance to win a $500 prize. Finalists included:

(WINNER) Bricks for Kidz® Essex County Electric Fingers Instacut J. Scota Designs Locus Labs

The Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership (IFEL) IFEL was founded in 2002 with a planning grant from The Prudential Foundation. IFEL launched pilot program services in 2004 with a group of five Newark-based clients. In 2015, the IFEL Family of Programs served over 1,800 entrepreneurs in New Jersey, New York City, Connecticut, Maine, Missouri, Virginia and internationally.

The Newark Community Economic Development Corporation Newark Community EDC is the primary economic development catalyst for the State of New Jersey’s largest city, Newark. It is organized to retain, attract and grow businesses, enhance small and minority business capacity, and spur real estate development.

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