Family-owned Birmingham store among Big Pitch winners

Times staff report

From right, first place winners, Brianna & Rod Cowans; second place, Kate Hardy and noncompeting finalist Rae’Mah Henderson of Yobi Salads Express. (REV Birmingham).

Rodriquez and Brianna Cowans of R&M Convenience Store won the $20,000 grand prize and the $5,000 popular vote prize in this year’s REV Birmingham’s Fourth Annual Big Pitch by PNC.

R&M is a family owned and operated store in Enon Ridge that is undergoing a rebranding to 3rd Street Market, reflecting their shift from a convenience store to grocery store.

No contestant has ever won the grand prize and popular vote at the same time.

“We were able to bring home not one, but both awards,” said Brianna Cowans, owner R&M. “Thanks to our family, friends and continuous supporters. A special thanks to David Fleming, CEO of REV Bham, and the entire REV Team.”

REV Birmingham REV Birmingham (REV) creates vibrant commercial districts by filling vacant spaces and growing sustainable businesses.

Finalists presented their dreams for a chance to win start-up investment cash and professional services in front of a live audience. The proposed businesses have to make money while benefiting a neighborhood or making a positive impact on Birmingham.

Ten finalists competed for a shot at a share of $40,000 in start-up capital before judges, potential investors, and a live audience on Nov. 18 at The Negro Southern League Museum.

The judges were made up of academics, business innovators, and representatives from the banking and tech sectors.

Second place went to Kate Hardy of Square One Goods, a cheeky shop full of Birmingham flavor that prompts smiles with its cards, stationery and gifts. The $10,000 prize will help Hardy as she works toward a brick and mortar retail location for her store.

Teen sensation Rae’Mah Henderson, who at 17 is a year shy of the BIG PITCH age requirement, presented her concept for Yobi Salads Express on stage at the competition. Although not eligible for the cash prizes, Henderson was awarded a scholarship from Create Birmingham for CO.STARTERS, their business development program which is a partner with REV Birmingham.

Henderson presented her idea for Yobi Salads Express. She was met with a standing ovation at the end of her presentation.

Lakey Boyd, of Innovate Birmingham, offered the following advice to potential entrepreneurs.

“Just start. Take the first step and get connected to your customers. Getting early traction with customers helps to confirm your business concept, help you make a better product, and build a business model to achieve actual revenue,” Boyd said. “If you have an idea that compels you, then take action and share it by connecting to like-minded folks.”

For more information, visit www.revbirmingham.org.