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Dolphin Tank competition announces 2017 Detroit finalists

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
The Dolphin Tank's 2016 winners awarded by the Michigan Women's Foundation.

A cookie dough cafe, local mushroom factory and a spinning studio are some ideas in the running to win this year's Dolphin Tank competition. 

Nine female finalists will pitch their business concepts at the 7th annual competition hosted by the Michigan Women's Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Grand Rapids.

Inspired by ABC’s “Shark Tank,” entrepreneurs are competing for $10,000 to start their business in Detroit. 

"It's separated into lifestyle, a business that will be a local company, and gross category for businesses that are planning to scale nationally and globally," said Carolyn Cassin, CEO and president of the Michigan Women's Foundation. 

Cassin said the pitch competition was offered strictly to women-run businesses because "we saw that women were applying and hardly ever make the finals." 

The finalists, with predominantly female staffs, will pitch their ideas on Nov. 8 at Next Energy in Detroit. Judges will choose the winner but the public is invited to vote for best idea. 

Detroit is one of three competitions.Ten others will pitch in Jackson on Wednesday and another 10 in Grand Rapids on Nov. 9.

"We had over 135 applications for this year’s competition, which was narrowed down to just 10 in each location," officials said, and constitute five ideas in the growth category and five in lifestyle.

Nearly $110,000 will be awarded to winners this year.

First prize in each category will be awarded $10,000. Second place receives $5,000,  $2,500 is awarded for third place and there is $1,000 for best in the tank. 

The Dolphin Tank contestants get feedback and coaching from experts on how to make themselves a good fit with investors. They have to pitch a business plan and model their southeast Michigan-based idea. 

This year's finalists for southeast Michigan competing in Detroit are:

In lifestyle:

  • Kelly Burgin, K. Carroll Accessories: Everyday accessories for women with style and technology fashion including purses with built-in chargers. Last fall, K. Carroll was chosen as one of Oprah's favorite things. 
  • Cassandra Floyd, Brooklyn Brownies with Love: A family-owned gourmet brownie company in Detroit. 
  • Nicole Mangis, Brut Detroit: A pop-up Detroit wine bar that has hosted more than 50 events since fall 2015. Wine tastings and social gatherings with support to local nonprofits. Brut is a Hatch Detroit semi-finalist and winner of the TechTown Retail boot camp. 
  • Devin Williams, Whip It Up with Devon: Williams has been cooking since she was 7 years old and experiments with holistic recipes. Whip It Up inspires people to get creative in the kitchen while preparing healthy meals.

In growth:

  • Autumn Kyles, Victoria Washington, Theodore J. Washington and Daniel A. Washington, Detroit Dough: A safe-to-eat cookie dough bar in Detroit's NW Goldberg neighborhood founded by four millennials that will donate a portion of non-resident sales back into the community.
  • Wendy Caldwell, Joyell Lewis, Spinners Premier Cycle Studio:  A spinning studio with a philosophy based in community , convenience and healthy lifestyle. 
  • Marlo Rencher, Marlin G. Williams, CodeConnect: Start-up company that helps underrepresented talent reach the next level in their tech career.
  • Danielle Smith, Detroit Maid:  Professional cleaning service to help lighten the load.

Contestants will be judged on best idea, persuasiveness, style, experience, content and timing. 

Kyles, CEO of Detroit Dough, said she's excited to have an opportunity to raise awareness for the community her business will serve.  

“Detroit Dough will not only donate funds back into NW Goldberg but create awareness and invest in residents through jobs and events," said Kyles. “As a kid, I always loved to sneak a scoop of cookie dough when my mom made cookies. Today, I’m still in love with cookie dough and I know that most people still love it too."

Kyles said the store, expected to open in spring 2018, will have five base flavors, and over 50 mix-in treats. 

Last year's Detroit winners included Sandy Stojkovski with iServe Inc., a soft-serve dessert-making system and Clare Fox and Wayne Maki, a Detroit craft-workshop transforming locally reclaimed wood into handcrafted furniture. 

"It's an incredible and exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs," said Cassin. "We are the opposite of "Shark Tank"; we want you to succeed no matter what."