Entrepreneurs start their businesses for a reason. Maybe they came up with a great idea while working at their full-time jobs. Or, maybe they had a breakthrough “epiphany” moment and thought of a way to do something better. From May 1, 2019 to May 26, 2019, we invited small business owners to share the story behind their companies to celebrate National Small Business Week. Our contest was named “What’s the Big Idea?” and it was a tremendous success. We received an overwhelming number of essays that conveyed a genuine passion and an entrepreneurial spirit, and this made it difficult to pick the winners.

We are honored to present the 2019 “What’s the Big Idea” $1,000 Grand Prize Award to Sharon Zelinko, a retired nurse and founder of Gripsors, LLC, located in Winter Haven, Florida. Sharon invented medical bandage scissors with a unique design, including grooves between the handles that allow nurse practitioners to grip and open IV lines in a safe and easy manner. “When you find something that helps your profession, I think it’s great because you know the value it holds. It’s finding something people will want to use because it can help them provide a better level of service and make their jobs easier.”
– Sharon Zelinko, RN

Our $500 runner-up winner is Diane Emery, founder of Executive Reporting Service, which is headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida. Executive Reporting Service supports the legal community with court reporting services and litigation support. “I want working at my company to be something you love and that enhances your life – not a thing that you have to do to survive. I love my clients. I love the challenge of keeping up with technology and social media and trends and finances and office space – I never get bored, and I grow every day.”
– Diane Emery, CEO, Founder

We expected a high number of entries to this year’s contest, so we included ten honorable mention winners, each of whom won a $50 cash prize. Following is the list of the honorable mention winners.

The Beehive Design Studio – De Soto, Texas
“I went to college to become a nurse. This is where I learned about the interior design field. I would always help the interior design students make their models and sketch out their floor plans. 20 years later, I pursued my dream of being an interior designer. I am always told that I am very nurturing. I guess the nursing field gave me that personality trait, or perhaps it’s because I really enjoy taking care of people.”
– Bernetta Sowels, Founder

Lights ‘n Such – Marble Falls, Texas
“The idea of starting our own lighting business came from my father-in-law. My wife was in dental school and I was working for a local showroom. In the evenings, and on the weekends, we worked on converting an old firehouse into my wife’s dental office. It was large enough for us to split it into two parts; one side would be her dental office and we weren’t sure what the other side would be used for. My father-in-law, knowing that I had years of experience in the lighting industry, said, “why not start your own lighting showroom?”
– Harold Henderson, Founder

JMeds – Fort Worth, Texas
“My eventual business partner and I went to lunch one day and decided to start our own company. He knew where to buy the medical equipment we needed, and I had the client base established. The rest is history. We set out to provide the best medical equipment, at a competitive price, with the best customer service in the industry in Texas.”
– Jerry Williams, Founder

Testa Companies – Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
“The Northside Marketplace was created as a retail incubator. It functions like an urban shopping mall for startups. We have 68 local businesses that are open 7 days a week, along with a food court, a social lounge, and a year-round farmers market. We provide a platform for small businesses to work in. We offer mentorship and collaboration, we curate the spaces, and we work with local demand generators to drive traffic.”
– Joel Testa, Founder

Island Demo, Inc. – Honolulu, HI
“I started Island Demo, Inc. in 1988. It’s a demolition company that serves the contracting community in Hawaii. We offer demolition contracting, asbestos abatement, roll-off services, and construction and demolition debris removal and recycling. We are still going strong after 30 years with a great reputation, and we’ve always paid our employees and taxes on time.”
– John Leary, Founder 

Alessio Miniatures – Dix Hills, New York
“I worked at toy store that sold dollhouses when I was 12 years old. The store’s owner paid me to split miniature wooden shingles by hand. Using the limited wisdom of a 13-year-old, I figured I could make twice the money if I sold them to a second store. Well, that is just what I did. I started my company at age 13, and each year I expanded the line by adding new products and equipment. Today, 47 years later, I make thousands of products ranging from windows and doors to flooring, roofing, moldings, and custom-made doll houses.”
– Scott Alessio, Founder

COAuto – Reno, Nevada
“I had a vision to open an automotive shop that allowed people who utilize our space, our tools, and our knowledge in order to save time and money with their vehicle repairs by doing the repairs themselves. The goal was to create a community-based auto repair shop. The next step was to convince my older brother, who is an amazing automotive technician, to leave his job and join me. He did just that as he saw the potential. We feel blessed to be small business owners in such a beautiful city with beautiful people.”
– Vinnie Lucido, Founder

Independent Moving and Storage, Inc. – Tampa, Florida
“One day I sat down with my wife and said we needed to think of a business name because I want to start a moving company. That was the day Independent Moving and Storage, Inc. was born. 30 years later, we are still running strong. We are family owned and give flat price quotes, not hourly rates, to people and families who move in Florida. Over the years, we have established a great relationship with realtors, apartment managers, and storage managers.”
– Anthony Bonacci, Founder

Vega’s Custom Iron – Sacramento, California
“When I moved to the United States from Cuba, I started working with some great architects, designers, and contractors. I realized my potential and convinced my wife, who is a designer, to start a business back in 2004. That is when Vega’s Custom Iron was founded. We are an all-custom ornamental iron shop. We design, fabricate, and install gates, fences, stair rails, balconies, lighting, and much more.”
– Miguel Vega, Founder

Jones Rustic Sign Co. – Dayton, Ohio
“My wife Lorna taught school for many years and was always making some type of art. One year, she made several hand-stenciled signs as Christmas presents for her family and some friends. People started asking her to make signs for them, and she went on to put some of her work in a local store, and showcase it at craft fairs. A store supplier person saw Lorna’s work and asked if she could sell her signs at a large wholesale show in Atlanta, Georgia. I started sawing and painting the boards that Lorna would then stencil, and I decided to work for her. We enjoy working together, bringing our children into the business, and being able to make a difference in our employees’ lives. I have had many people tell me they couldn’t work with their spouse, but works out great for us!
– Ken Jones, Partner