Up-and-coming bookseller and Bronx native Noelle Santos has won the $7,500 second place prize in the New York 2016 StartUP! Business Plan Competition for her plans to open The Lit. Bar, a bookstore/wine bar in the South Bronx.
The annual business plan competition managed by the New York Public Library’s Science Industry and Business Library (SIBL) and funded by Citigroup’s Citi Foundation is open to New York City residents looking to start a business in Manhattan, the Bronx, or Staten Island. This year, the competition awarded more than $30,000 to five new local businesses.
“I got the $7,500 prize, some of which will go toward my marketing materials so I can go out and raise more money,” said Santos. The bulk of the money, she said, will go to pay for her store’s POS system.
Santos entered the competition in June and was required to submit a detailed business plan. When it opens in 2017, The Lit. Bar will be the only independent bookstore in the New York City borough. It will feature a “graffiti and chandelier” aesthetic and offer a varied book collection with a section for Bronx-related books; coffee, wine, and small plates; Santos’ Readers and Shakers Book Club; and literary events and readings.
Santos was selected as one of 10 finalists out of 360 applications in late July. On August 9, she had 10 minutes to present her business plan to a panel of judges, with a 10-minute Q&A. The winners were announced on September 12 at an awards ceremony at the New York Public Library.
“All the competitors found out at the same time. It was really nerve-wracking but I had my family and friends with me,” said Santos.
At the ceremony, Santos met Nicole Sullivan, owner of Denver’s BookBar, for the first time. Sullivan, who has been Santos’ mentor for the last two years, wrote a glowing letter of recommendation to the competition committee for Santos and provided her with sales data and information on best practices. Sullivan was visiting New York to be honored on September 15 at the PW Star Watch awards ceremony, which Santos will also attend.
To perfect her business plan, Santos also consulted with a business development advisor from a local college and with Donna Paz Kaufman of Paz & Associates’ Bookstore Training Group to make sure her plan’s projections were reasonable.
The competition’s first prize of $15,000 went to Patrick Connorton, Jason Pessel, and Andrew Betlyon, the creators of Reefil, an environmentally friendly, on-the-go water distribution service in Manhattan. Third place winner Christina Clark received $5,000 for Manhattan Mushroom Company and the two runners-up — Jacqueline McCabe for Urby Lifestyle LLC and Kellie Lipson for Spoonable Spirits — received $1,500 each.
During the competition, all entrants were required to attend an orientation, three business planning workshops, and meet with expert business advisors. Their finished business plans were evaluated by a panel of judges representing local business development leaders from nonprofits and public agencies, financial funders, and entrepreneurs.
“The finalists of this year’s StartUP! Business Plan Competition are joining a vibrant community of previous winners, thriving entrepreneurs, business experts, investors, and library staff — all of whom are dedicated to their success,” said SIBL Director Kristin McDonough. “We are all exceptionally proud of their hard work and progress they continue to make.”
Now that the competition is over, Santos is seriously focusing on raising money, appealing to local businesses and politicians for donations. She has already raised $10,000 and plans to host additional fundraisers before opening The Lit. Bar’s doors. An online crowdfunding campaign will likely kick off in January, she said.
“I wanted to wait for the competition results before I put out my sponsorship materials so I could include it in the informational packets that are going to potential contributors,” said Santos. “So now I’m getting started with funding, and I’ve opened up a business checking account.”
Potential contributors will receive a brochure outlining The Lit. Bar’s different levels of sponsorship, including one that allows contributors to sponsor a bookshelf at the store. Santos is also investing her own money to fund the store and plans to apply for a loan from the Bronx Opportunity Fund.
Santos chronicles her journey to open The Lit. Bar on her blog, 1stNoelle.com.