Build-a-Bow and Compost Crusader selected for American Small Business Championship

Southeastern Wisconsin businesses headed to national competition

Build-a-Bow founder Alex Hart-Upendo with his family.

Racine-based Build-a-Bow and St. Francis-based Compost Crusader are two of the three Wisconsin companies selected to represent the state at a national competition, SCORE’s American Small Business Championship.

Build-a-Bow founder Alex Hart-Upendo with his family.

The Small Business Champions—there are 102 nationwide—have earned an expense-paid trip to the national Championship Training & Networking Celebration in Reno, Nevada later this month. They also receive SCORE mentoring for one year and national publicity. At the celebration, three Grand Champions will be selected to win $15,000 grand prizes.

Build-a-Bow was founded by 11-year-old entrepreneur Alex Hart-Upendo. Build-a-Bow makes custom bow ties that are used to combat and bring awareness to bullying. Alex, who has sold about 5,000 bow ties, also wrote a book to go along with them and offers workshops to make bow ties for different causes.

In their application, Hart-Upendo and his mother, Karee Upendo, say Build-a-Bow has been able to increase sales by 30 percent with the help of a SCORE mentor during its recent Launchbox cohort.

“I went from bullying to bow ties,” Alex says in their application video.

Karee said the pair were blown away by the amount of support they received from the Build-a-Bow community, which voted in the contest to help them win.

“Normally for voting competitions, it’s a one-time vote, you’re done and that’s it,” she said. “For this competition, you can vote once every hour.”

Alex isn’t able to attend the American Small Business Championship because he isn’t 18, but he’s sending his parents in his place.

“Alex is like, ‘You and dad go out there and kill it,’” Karee said. “I’m hoping that I can represent our brand and make him proud and hopefully become one of the top three prize winners. My husband and I are going to try to be as good as Alex.”

Compost Crusader collects and composts organic waste from area companies, schools and residences. The company has diverted more than 4 million pounds of material since it was founded in 2014.

In her entry, founder Melissa Tashjian said Compost Crusader has doubled its revenue and customer count each year, driven solely by word-of-mouth.

Tashjian said she’s looking forward to networking with other businesses and attending training seminars at the championship.

“Anytime I win anything I’m a little surprised and a little humbled that people respond to our cause and my passion,” she said. “I think the next evolution of recycling is composting, and I think that rings true for a lot of people and a lot of places.”

The third Wisconsin small business selected for the competition was Kaukauna-based girls’ softball skills development company 360U LLC.

There were 23 entries from Wisconsin and more than 1,000 total.

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