By: Stacey Marshall

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There’s already help out there for start-ups in need of support, but what about businesses that are established, that are making an impact and are ready to take the next step? FirstOntario Credit Union’s 1Awards competition focuses on helping local businesses that have been in operation for more than two years – get to the next level.

FirstOntario Credit Union 1Awards - Ceremony

1Awards Celebration – Submitted Photo

Once again $150,000 in cash and in-kind professional services is up for grabs for entrepreneurs who are ready to take a leap forward. This year, the competition – celebrating its ninth year – is welcoming Brantford-area businesses to apply for their chance to share in the prize pool.

“We’re excited to welcome Brantford businesses this year and I encourage them to apply and try to win a share of thousands of dollars in prizes that could give them a real edge,” said FirstOntario’s Joanne Battaglia, Vice President, Marketing, Communications and Community Partnerships. “The 1Awards can make a difference to many of the unique businesses that are already established, we want to recognize and celebrate their successes.”

To be eligible, businesses must have 50 employees or less and be in operation for at least 24 months. Passionate owners need to demonstrate measureable growth such as workforce expansion, innovation and economic impact in the community. Finalists are invited to an interactive workshop, where they will get valuable insight and feedback in preparation for presentation day where they will tell a panel of judges what they’ve already achieved, where they want to grow and how they intend to get there. Each 10-15 minute pitch (it’s fun and informal) ends with a question and answer period before the judges deliberate and choose the winners.

The winners (usually three) will share $23,000 in cash and $127,000 in professional services. Prizes are based on individual needs and the top level services are provided by 1Awards partners who are leading experts in business planning and finance, law, accounting, advertising and marketing. Partners include The Hamilton Spectator, Agro Zaffiro LLP, KPMG, Mohawk College, 900 CHML and PLAY. In eight years, FirstOntario and 1Awards partners have invested more than $1 million into its business communities. Winners will be announced at a breakfast gala on May 14.

Previous winners include Dolled Up Desserts, QReserve, AmandaSteen Cosmetics, Burnt Tongue, White Elephant, Humble Bee and Caliber Communications.

FirstOntario Credit Union 1Awards - Dolled Up Desserts

Dolled Up Desserts – Previous Winner of the 1Awards – Submitted Photo

The 1Awards aims to recognize the businesses that have been around for a few years and may be on the brink of something big. Running a business is a relentless commitment and it may take time before owners enjoy the rewards. While everyone can use more money, sometimes it’s the expertise in accounting, legal or marketing that can really transform a product or service into long-term, sustainable success – it’s about taking advantage of the resources that are available to maintain or gain momentum.

The competition is open to businesses in Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville and Brantford and surrounding areas. Applicants are from all walks of life including IT, retail and hospitality. These small businesses are sought out for their creative and inspiring ideas that translate into the innovative products and services they offer.

“This is a fun competition that offers more than just prizes. Finalists get support, coaching and the opportunity to make some valuable connections,” said Battaglia.

Applications are available online at – keep in mind – the more details, the better. The program offers the tools to pitch with confidence and the opportunity to show the judges what the business is all about and how the 1Awards can help. Think big, dream big. FirstOntario and its partners are invested in this program and are here to help.

Deadline for applications is Tuesday, March 31.