The 2017 Calling All Dreamers competition opened for applications Monday, March 6. The Shark Tank-style competition takes qualified applicants through a 3-month business development course. The winner, upon choosing a downtown location, receives a coveted prize package valued at more than $100,000 to help them launch their small business dreams into reality. Applications will be accepted through Monday, April 10, at 5 p.m. For more information on the competition, visit CallingAllDreamers.org.
We caught up with some former Calling All Dreamers candidates and asked them to share with us some insights on the competition:
- Andy’s Candy Apothecary, 2013 Winner
- Off the Chain, 2014 Finalist
- Whired Wine, 2015 Finalist
- Allspicery, 2015 Winner
- Studio FIG, 2016 Finalist (opening March 11, 2017)
- Oblivion Comics & Coffee, 2016 Winner (opening late Spring)
How did Calling All Dreamers contribute to your success?
ANDY’S CANDY: It was instrumental. First, it was the motivating factor to opening. The structure of the competition made us do a lot of the necessary work and research you need in order to open. Second, it created a wave of publicity and goodwill that was a great way to open a new business. Third, the resources and partnerships. Through the process of the competition, we met many great contacts that we wouldn’t have otherwise. And of course, the resources of the prize package were a big help — they cut down on some of the initial startup costs, which is always a good thing.
OFF THE CHAIN: For us, it was credibility. We were serious and wanted people to take us seriously too (not just some beer bike). The Calling All Dreamers competition provided us with the platform to get in front of the right civic leaders and gave us the respect we needed to move to the next level. Furthermore, it provided us with blunt guidance and coaching, which in the long run was extremely valuable.
WHIRED: Calling All Dreamers inspired us to keep going and moving forward. Seeing the winners opening their businesses, and us actually being able to support their businesses as customers, was extremely inspiring. Also, knowing that Downtown Sacramento Partnership is there to support us in many ways is wonderful.
ALLSPICERY: Calling All Dreamers was the kick in the pants that I needed to get my idea off the ground. I’ve always loved food and travel, but I never imagined that I would get the opportunity to combine those two passions into a career! Without the competition the process of opening up a business would have been so much more daunting. Downtown Sacramento Partnership’s financial support as well as moral support and small business know-how have been absolutely invaluable.
STUDIO FIG: Calling All Dreamers’ biggest contribution was the connections with amazing, inspiring people, such as Andy of Andy’s Candy Apothecary, the incredible Downtown Sacramento Partnership team, Laura and Neil of Oblivion, my SCORE mentor Venki, and so many others. People are the heartbeat of Studio FIG, and everyone’s belief and support in me and Studio FIG has been the biggest motivation and key factor for the success so far.
OBLIVION: Prior to the competition, we had a basic business plan but we didn’t know what to do next. We found ourselves lost and just stuck. We decided to enter the competition specifically for the resources and access to a business mentor that would help point us in the right direction. We never really figured we’d go all the way, but we never really wanted to lose either. Oblivion is a little more complicated than an average retail or coffee shop so opening may have taken several more years if not for the help we’ve received through CAD. Not only has the prize package of services come to our rescue, but also our fellow competitors. CAD has allowed us to connect with an amazing group of people that have helped us with every step and vice versa. We’re excited to open and pay it forward.
What is the advice you would give to someone applying for this year’s Calling All Dreamers competition?
ANDY’S CANDY: Do it. If you’re serious. The process will help you fill in the details and research around your idea, even if you don’t win. And if you think your concept has a shot at winning, it’s a pretty great boost for any new business.
OFF THE CHAIN: Our advice would be to have a plan; however, not be afraid to fail or use resources to revise your vision. Understand that what you are about to partake in will not be easy and you will have several sleepless nights; however, if you are passionate about what you are looking to do, it will show and be worth all the time an energy that will go into building a solid foundation. Most importantly, take chances and never quit looking to improve.
WHIRED: Have a solid business plan. Know your niche and target market, but still be able to adjust to the business climate. Don’t give up.
ALLSPICERY: Do your homework and be thorough! Decide on how you want to make your mark on Sacramento, check out what other similar businesses have done in other cities, and consider reaching out to those businesses to get ideas for how you might run yours (or not). Be able to articulate why a storefront in downtown Sacramento is the ideal spot for your business. Put some [conservative] thought into how your business will actually make money and translate that into a realistic cash flow projection. And have fun with it! If you can be enthusiastic and convincing about your concept, then you’re already ahead of the game.
STUDIO FIG: Apply because you want to see your dream come true. Do your research to the best of your ability, use family and friends as soundboards, and continue to trust yourself. Even if you don’t get chosen to be a part of the competition, get a SCORE mentor, and don’t stop trying!
OBLIVION: Remember this competition and business in general is about concept, financial feasibility, and contributing to the local culture. Prepare as much as possible to address these three things. Make sure you know your target audience well and research similar businesses, even if they’re outside the Sacramento area. If you have the opportunity to speak with other businesses in your market, you may receive valuable information to help make your business more viable. And of course, have fun and build relationships with the others. While you are competitors, you’re all working towards the same goal of creating a new business and contributing to the community in a positive way.
Note: Some answers have been edited for clarity.