Just a few years ago, it’s unlikely that former middle school teacher and textbook salesperson Andrea DuVall would have imagined herself pitching a business model in front a panel of celebrity judges for a $200,000 prize. But on Saturday, Sept. 19, she and her husband, Graham DuVall, did just that, representing their Asheville-based farm-to-door delivery business, Mother Earth Produce, as one of six national finalists in Miller Lite’s Tap The Future small-business competition.
In the end, Mother Earth Produce didn’t come out on top — Edovo, a business that provides self-driven educational platforms for inmates, ultimately claimed the prize. But as the winner of one of the competition’s six regional semifinal rounds, the DuValls earned $20,000 toward achieving their business goals.
And those objectives are not modest. “Our three-year goal for Mother Earth Produce is to triple our current customer base,” says Andrea DuVall. “We will continue to serve Asheville, Greenville and Spartanburg while expanding our delivery radius to Charlotte.” These plans, she says, include buying a third delivery van and finding new warehouse space to accommodate the growth. Had they won Tap The Future, they had aimed to use the prize money to cover costs for the van and expanded space with refrigeration units and hire a full-time marketing manager.
Although the award was lucrative, the contest offered more than just money. The experience, says Andrea DuVall, was invaluable. Mother Earth Produce was chosen from more than 1,000 applicants for the semifinals in July based on a written business proposal and description of the company. Semifinalists did a live pitch on various aspects of their business model before a panel of judges, including Daymon John, a regular judge on the ABC’s “Shark Tank” television show who was recently named an ambassador for global entrepreneurship by the White House.
As finalists, the DuValls were required to create a detailed, 20-page business plan with three-year financial projections and do a 20-minute live presentation before judges in Chicago on Sept. 19. “We have had an opportunity to meet many inspirational business leaders, and we have learned a great deal from all of them,” say Andrea DuVall. “We have also worked with some incredible mentors to create our financials and plan for sustainable growth for the next stage of our business. These are areas where we have grown so much regardless of the final outcome.
“This has been an amazing ride,” she adds, noting that she and her husband are grateful to have won the $20,000 for their business.
The DuValls launched Mother Earth Produce in 2012 as a way for people with busy schedules to access locally grown, organic food. The company works with more than 20 local farms and food producers. Andrea DuVall says the business grew very slowly at first as she and her husband developed relationships with growers and created efficient systems for packing and delivery.
The company started taking off in January of this year, she says, “when everything we have been working so hard for seemed to fall into place. We have been growing at fast pace since then, and we are so excited to see how the future unfolds.”