Local granola entrepreneurs win Hy-Vee pitch contest
A pair of Twin Cities friends who are partners in a new business got a big boost at the first Hy-Vee OpportUNITY Inclusive Business Summit in the Twin Cities.
Held at US Bank Stadium, the day-long summit on Feb. 9 included a pitch competition that awarded $50,000 in grants to local minority and women-owned businesses. Nearly 150 Minnesota small businesses and startups applied for the competition; 15 were selected to demonstrate their products or services to a panel of community business experts and Hy-Vee executives who served as judges.
Sylvia Williams and Liza Maya, founders of Soul Grain Granola based in St Paul, won the $2,500 Judge’s Choice Award.
“This was our first pitch competition and we were excited to just get in. Our pitch was not as professional as the others, but that’s how you learn,” said Maya. “The judges tasted our product and thought it was innovative and that’s a confidence booster.”
“We were not expecting to win. We wanted a learning and networking experience, so we were really surprised. It’s meaningful we were considered and that they blessed us with the Judge’s Award,” added Williams.
Maya, an esthetician and spa director with a degree in nutrition, and Williams, a cosmetologist and pastry chef, had long talked about creating a healthy, shelf-stable product, “something quick and easy to snack on for people like us, who work long days,” as Williams put it.
With time on their hands when their salons were temporarily closed during the Covid-19 shutdown, they developed Soul Grain. Their granola gives a nod to Black culture with iconic flavors like Sweet Potato Casserole and Coco Mango. Banana Pudding is their best-seller.
“Even people who are not granola fans like what we are doing,” said Maya. “My mother is from North Africa and one of our flavors is Spiced Paradise, which has the flavors of Grains of Paradise, a spice I grew up with.”
Using a commercial kitchen in Maplewood, the pair began creating Soul Grain in May of 2022 and it quickly took off. They market it through their website with online sales at www.soul-grain.com.
The hand-crafted product, packaged in a bag with a retro logo that features a profile of a woman with an Afro, is also available at four Kowalski’s groceries (Grand Ave. in St. Paul, Lyndale, and Uptown in Minneapolis, and at the Woodbury store) and at Camden Foods on Concourse F at the Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport.
Now Williams and Maya dream that someday their products will be on all Hy-Vee store shelves—and more.
“The judges answered questions about scaling up our business and what we need to grow to become a household name,” said Maya. “It was super inspiring to make connections with other great creators and meet with a rep from Hy-Vee.”
“So far we’ve been working to make enough to buy ingredients and supplies, but we want to make enough money to be doing the granola business full-time,” Williams said. “We’re both moms and we are lucky enough to be able to feed our children. Someday we will be donating to kids who need food.”
For more info about Soul Grain, go to www.soul-grain.com.
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