Business / Economy

JMM Dance Co. places in Startup Challenge Monterey Bay finals

San Benito dance studio competes for second year in a row. This year's challenge took place online and saw 31 finalists compete in four divisions.
Veronica Vasquez instructing a dance class at home during the shelter-in-place order. Photo provided by Veronica Vasquez.
Veronica Vasquez instructing a dance class at home during the shelter-in-place order. Photo provided by Veronica Vasquez.
Photo provided by Veronica Vasquez.
Photo provided by Veronica Vasquez.
Photo provided by Veronica Vasquez.
Photo provided by Veronica Vasquez.

The results are in, and San Benito County has a runner-up in the 11th annual Startup Challenge Monterey Bay. JMM All Abilities Dance Co. placed second in the Social Venture division. This is the first virtual year for the challenge, hosted by the Institute for Innovation and Economic Development (IIED) at CSU-Monterey Bay.

“Given the amount of work that I have right now, I preferred the virtual experience,” said Veronica Vasquez, founding director of JMM Dance. “It gave me the flexibility to work on my pitch beforehand and practice recording it, rather than spending all day waiting to pitch for a few short minutes.”

Thirty-one finalists competed across four divisions: Venture, Social Venture, Main Street, and Student. Each finalist recorded a 10-minute pitch for the judges to review, followed by a short question and answer session. 

“We were pleased to be able to continue the competition through the pandemic,” said Mary Jo Zenk, the IIED program manager responsible for organizing the Startup Challenge. “We provided quite a few resources to the applicants, including virtual workshops, one-on-one assistance with our business mentors for the finalists, and opportunities to practice their pitch.”

infiniRel won the Venture Divison, WeHike won the Social Venture Division, Nece’s Gluten-Free Baked Goods won the Main Street Division, and HoweNeat won the Student Division.

JMM Dance Co., whose mission is to “expand dance education to people of all abilities by providing equity, accessibility, inclusive resources and exposure to the tools of visual and performing arts for the purpose of self-development,” has continued to offer programming during shelter-in-place. 

“Some of the kids tell me that what made their day was dancing, that it was the one thing that made them feel happy that day,” said Vasquez.

Like other businesses, Vasquez is busy reorganizing to accommodate shelter-in-place restrictions, including acquiring the technology necessary to offer virtual dance classes. She needs a live video feed, synchronized music that the instructor and dancers can hear, and a microphone to give instruction.

In years past, the Social Venture division has awarded a total of $15,000 in prize money. This year, $31,000 in cash prizes will be distributed among all the winners, who will also receive professional business and legal services. Winners will be notified about their prize packages this week.

Given that gyms and dance studios are some of the last businesses that will open up under California’s four-stage recovery plan, Vasquez is planning for the long haul. That includes investing in personalized packages to deliver to all of her students, which she plans to purchase with any prize money awarded.

“For our princess ballet class, the kids would get everything they need to feel like a prince or a princess, or a scarf and a wand to dance with,” she said. 

As to whether any of the virtual elements in this year’s entrepreneurial competition will be implemented in next year’s challenge, Zenk is unsure.

“Our goal is to take the best of what we learn each year and apply it to the next year,” she said. “We focus on what we want to improve and change.”

Virtual or not, Vasquez found the challenge rewarding.

“In the end, I’m just really grateful that we were acknowledged for our work,” she said.

Other related BenitoLink articles:

Startup Challenge Monterey Bay goes virtual


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Matthew Koller