Gnarly Pepper overall winner in OpportUNITY pitch competition

Gnarly Pepper
Sara Larson, owner of Gnarly Pepper, won the pitch competition at Hy-Vee's OpportUNITY Inclusive Business Summit in Hiawatha on May 25. CREDIT HY-VEE

Hy-Vee Inc. awarded $50,000 to minority- and women-owned businesses during its OpportUNITY Inclusive Business Summit in Hiawatha on May 25. Gnarly Pepper from Cedar Rapids was the overall winner of the pitch competition, receiving a business grant of $25,000.

LuLit’s Hair Essence from Evansdale came in second and Variegate from Iowa City came in third, receiving $15,000 and $10,000 respectively.

Sara Larson is founder of Gnarly Pepper, which offers a healthy alternative to traditional dips and condiments. Rosie Daniel of LuLit’s Hair Essence provides natural solutions to hair loss and skin irritations. Variegate founder Dasia Taylor offers an innovative medical solution that provides color-changing stitches that detects infections.

The pitch competition was held in conjunction with Hy-Vee’s OpportUNITY Inclusive Business Summit at the Kirkwood Community College Linn County Regional Center. During the event, 10 minority- and women-owned businesses were selected to showcase their products or services for a panel of judges.

Eligible businesses offer retail-ready solutions in one of the following categories: food and beverage, product innovation and technology, health and beauty, sustainability, and service and entertainment. In addition to the winners, the following businesses also participated in the pitch competition:

  • 5 Borough Bagels, Clive
  • BOCS DSM, Des Moines
  • Crazy Goat Soap, Dubuque
  • DogCuterie Box, Clear Lake
  • eat G.A.N.G.S.T.E.R., Andover, Kansas
  • Linda Tong Planners, Urbandale
  • The Pink Umbrella Bakery, Coralville

Local professionals and community members attended the daylong conference, which included a small-business vendor expo, small-group panel discussions and a special keynote presentation. Speakers included Taufeek Shah, founder and CEO of Lola’s Fine Hot Sauce; Mo Nasraddin, CEO of The Keto Kitchen; Terrence Thames, CEO of Cocoa Creative Agency; Anne Rierson, director of marketing for Cedar Ridge; with keynote address by ReShonda Young, co-founder of Bank of Jabez.