Husband and wife duo Michael and Shalonda Burnside say they opened Lil Pop Gourmet Popcorn to teach their daughters about entrepreneurship.
As a new mom, Shalonda Burnside was struggling to reenter the workforce. Burnside had worked as a Lowe’s project coordinator and Home Depot marketing coordinator before going into teaching and then having two daughters. But she always knew she wanted to become an entrepreneur.
With the help of her husband, Michael, who works in finance in Fort Worth, the Burnsides began to think outside the box and decided to start a business based on a shared passion.
“We started Lil Pop because of our love for popcorn as a family and a desire to teach our two daughters entrepreneurship,” Burnside said. “We knew this would be the perfect opportunity for us to apply our experiences from the corporate world and start a gourmet popcorn company.”
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Husband and wife duo Michael and Shalonda Burnside say they opened Lil Pop Gourmet Popcorn to teach their daughters about entrepreneurship. Shalonda Burnside
Lil Pop Gourmet Popcorn specializes in handmade popcorn with a signature line including birthday cake, cinnamon churro and cookies and cream flavors. Customers can also create their own popcorn by choosing a base and toppings.
Local customers can order online and receive their popcorn within two days, and the business recently began shipping across the U.S. The Burnsides also sell their treats at pop-ups in the Fort Worth area.
Now, the family business has won the city of Fort Worth’s annual business plan competition. The company received a grand prize of $10,000 to support its business endeavors. This is also the first time a Black-owned business has won in the competition’s 12-year history.
Through the competition, 20 local small businesses completed six weeks of coaching and training in business development. The top eight finalists pitched their business concept to a panel of judges and live audience on May 11 and submitted written plans for judge evaluation.
“Being in that environment to share our highs, lows, and dreams with the group was very motivational and gave us the validation that we were on the right path,” Burnside said. “Winning the competition has given us the opportunity to pour resources into the company sooner than we expected. We’ve seen an immediate increase in interest in our company which has resulted in more sales.”
Lil Pop Gourmet Popcorn specializes in handmade popcorn with a signature line including birthday cake, cinnamon churro and cookies and cream flavors. Shalonda Burnside
Shalonda’s role as CEO and founder of the company gives her the opportunity to balance being a stay-at-home mom and building the business. Meanwhile, husband Michael balances his full-time finance job while serving as the business’ chief financial officer.
“Our plans are to grow the company large enough for both of us to work in the business full time within the next five years,” Burnside said.
Saria Hawkins pitches Manifest Your Purpose, a stationary company that targets Black women. Rachel DeLira Fort Worth Economic Development Department
A $6,000 second-place prize went to Manifest Your Purpose, a luxury stationery and office accessories business run by Saria Hawkins. Growing up, Hawkins saw a lack of representation of Black women in the stationary industry and wanted to create stationary products to reflect her culture and likeness.
Manifest Your Purpose specializes in luxury stationary that represents Black women. Whitney Blocker Whitney B Jordan
Hawkins sells her products on her website and Amazon, and attends multiple vendor events each year. Hawkins saw a 275% revenue increase during the first year of running her business. She has delivered more than 3,700 stationary orders to women around the world and sometimes completes 200 orders per month.
Brian Frank’s business Knarly Vans won third place in the 2023 Fort Worth business plan competition. Rachel DeLira Fort Worth Economic Development Department
Knarly Vans, a company that outfits passenger vans, won a third-place prize of $4,000. Business owner Brian Frank said his company’s outfitting is ADA compliant and helps fill holes in passenger van floors when the seats are lifted for wheelchairs. The company also sells insulated window covers and other products.
The business has sold to 11 countries, including several in Europe where van life is popular. The company has generated $30,000 in revenue and expects to generate $200,000 next year if the business stays on track.
After each of the eight finalists presented their pitches, audience members had a chance to vote for their favorites.
Michelle Holloway pitches her business, Lifestyle Transitions, which won the popular vote from audience members. Rachel DeLira Fort Worth Economic Development Department
Lifestyle Transitions owner Michelle Holloway won the popular vote. Holloway performs home inspections for seniors and makes recommendations to prevent falls and increase safety. Holloway is an occupational therapist on track to receive her post-professional doctorate degree. A 60-minute session costs $290, and services are approved by insurance.
The remaining finalists included homemade candy company Hallelujah! Brittles and Sweets, mental health agency Honeybee Wellness & Consulting, plant-based foods distributor Pure Vegan Pantry and self-publishing company RIPE Publishing House.
Seventeen of the 20 businesses who participated in the 2023 competition were minority- or women-owned businesses, the strongest diversity of Fort Worth’s business plan competition to date. This was also the first time the competition included representation from seven of the city’s council districts.
“It’s exciting to see the Fort Worth Business Plan Competition attract a group of competitors that holistically reflects our city’s business community,” said Andrea Duffie, communications specialist for the city’s economic development department. “That is especially true for minority and women-owned businesses, who have historically struggled to access these kinds of resources and coaching when it comes to growing and scaling their companies.”
Judges and audience members watched eight small businesses pitch their business concepts on May 11 at the city’s annual business plan competition. Rachel DeLira Fort Worth Economic Development Department
To qualify for the competition, businesses had to be two to five years old with an annual revenue of less than $500,000. All of the businesses had to be located within Fort Worth.
The economic development department for the city of Fort Worth organized the competition with sponsorship from Frost Bank. Supporting partners TechFW, HSC Innovates, Tarrant County Small Business Development Center, SCORE Fort Worth, the North Texas Entrepreneur Education and Training Center and AccelerateDFW Foundation contributed mentorship and coaching.