A small, Ludington-based maker of natural skin care products hit the honeypot last Friday—$50,000 to be exact. Sister Bees took home the top prize at Mason County’s fourth annual Momentum Business Plan Competition.

The maker of beeswax lip balms and body moisturizers was selected out of four other finalists in front of a panel of judges and a packed auditorium in a “Shark Tank”-style pitch September 21 at the Ludington Area Center for the Arts. Cynthia Lang of Cynthia Lang Pilates took home $5,000 for second prize.

Friday’s pitch night was the culmination of a rigorous process for finalists in the annual Momentum Business Plan Competition, administered by the Ludington & Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce. The competition is funded by Pennies from Heaven Foundation, which awards one entrepreneur $50,000 to start or relocate an early-stage business in Mason County. 

Contestants submitted business plans by July 31, after which they were short-listed to five finalists who presented to the judges. Contestants were each given five minutes to highlight their plans, followed by seven minutes of questions. The competition’s board of directors served as the judges, and are also Mason County business leaders, including John Wilson, CEO of Western Land Services; Kathy Maclean, president and CEO of the Ludington & Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce; Tom Paine, president of Metalworks; Ray Biggs, president and CEO of West Shore Bank; and Jim Scatena, local business leader. Cheryl Freeman and Wendy Morrow, co-owners of All Occasions Events and Floral and the 2017 Momentum winner, served as guest judges.

“Pitch Night is always an exciting evening. The entire community comes out to cheer on our finalists,” Maclean says. “The Momentum Competition celebrates and highlights entrepreneurs of Mason County. Their investment and passion for their dreams create a vibe that makes Ludington a special place to live and work.”

Kelly Bonnema, Amber Boerema & Kimberly Ambrose

Sister Bees

Named initially because friends Kim Ambrose and Amber Boerema were as close as sisters, it became more literal when Ambrose’s sister Kelly Bonnema joined the business. Sister Bees began three years ago when the women realized the beeswax byproduct from beehives kept at Ambrose’s home for making honey was a healing ingredient for skin. 

Making the products out of their homes, the Sister Bees team produces a line of nine natural, chemical-free lip balms (with flavors such as coffee vanilla, peppermint and chai) and four, two-ounce body moisturizers with essential oils (including Bee Butter, Beard Balm, Worker Bee for men and Paw Putty for pets).

The products are sold at more than 35 retail stores in West Michigan from South Haven to Petoskey, pop-up markets, craft fairs and online at sisterbees.com.

“We are so appreciative of this award and know that $50,000 will have a huge impact on Sister Bees, but we are equally excited about the relationships of the five judges,” Boerema says. “We are confident we will glean so much from their expertise.”

With the help of the Momentum grant, Sister Bees plans to expand its online sales channel, implement a digital marketing strategy and attend industry trade shows in hopes of getting noticed by regional and national retailers to ultimately grow the business nationally. They are also looking into equipment to help them manufacture more products.

Cynthia Lang Pilates

A second place prize of $5,000 provided by the Mason County Growth Alliance was awarded to Cynthia Lang of Cynthia Lang Pilates at 913 S. Washington St. The classical Pilates studio offers private and group classes as well as individual sessions to cater to specific client needs. Lang was also one of the five finalists in the 2017 Momentum Competition. She wants to create a website and build a certified team to allow for more clients. Lang also plans to become a certified teacher trainer. Her long-term goal is to set up satellite studios in Manistee and Fremont.

  • Leta’s Educational Child Care: For eight years, Leta Bowman has offered childcare and educational learning in Ludington. This year, she expanded her business to open a child care learning center at 900 N. Washington Ave. focused on offering high-quality care in a safe, clean and healthy environment for children to succeed.
  • The Lake House: Owners Jeff and Jean White recently broke ground in late August. The Lake House will be a premier venue to host indoor and outdoor events. It has views of the Ludington harbor, S.S. Badger, marina and sunsets. The estimated opening date is early July 2019.
  • HumaniTea: This tea shop offers responsibly sourced organic loose-leaf teas and fair-trade artisan merchandise from local and global crafters. The retail space and consumer dollars help fund anti-human trafficking efforts. Opened in June 2018 at 127 S. James St. by Carmen Biggs and Chris Turnbull.
2017 Winner – All Occasions Events and Floral

In addition to the five finalists’ presentations, Cheryl Freeman and Wendy Morrow, sisters and co-owners of All Occasions Events and Floral, presented how they have grown and expanded their business since winning $50,000 at last year’s competition. Freeman and Morrow continue to meet regularly with the Momentum Board of Directors for business consultation.

“People think $50,000 is the prize, but it’s just as important to have the mentors,” Freeman says. “The money certainly catapulted our plans forward, but we also have access to these incredible business minds to help us.”

The sisters were able to purchase key equipment for the floral side of the business, including walk-in and display coolers. They also expanded their product line, adding an automated floral delivery service for businesses to receive fresh flowers weekly or monthly, and a personal shopper service for individuals. 

On the event side, they’re running a robust business with more than 25 events booked in 2018—exceeding their expectations. The duo is also adding new events every week. They’ve purchased new specialty items such as décor, Chiavari chairs and two 10×10 tents allowing them to expand beyond weddings. In the future, the sisters plan to hire more people to assist with the day-to-day work. They want to implement a training program for those interested in the industry so they can take on more clients. They’d also like to have a storage building to warehouse inventory.

The Momentum Business Plan Competition

Launched in 2015, the Momentum Business Plan Competition awards one business entrepreneur a prize of $50,000 to start or move an early-stage business to Mason County. Funded by Pennies from Heaven Foundation and administered by the Ludington & Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce, the competition is open to eligible independent for-profit or non-profit ventures with a viable business idea, plan or invention, or existing organizations or companies with less than $100,000 in sales or revenue annually. The competition idea was spearheaded by Pennies from Heaven Foundation founder John Wilson. Additional support is provided by Ludington Daily News, Ludington SCORE, Metalworks, West Shore Community College and West Shore Bank.

—Provided by Blue Blaze PR for Ludington & Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce

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Photo(s) by A.E. Swartz Photography