AP NEWS

Odessa Business Challenge concludes

April 2, 2019 GMT

Local entrepreneurs fought their way to the top in the Odessa Business Challenge and have received support to either expand their current businesses or pursue a new venture.

The Odessa Business Challenge is a local program overseen by the Small Business Development Center at the University of Texas Permian Basin and is funded by the Odessa Development Corporation.

Three winners made it past elimination rounds throughout the six-month process and were honored last week with a combined $350,000 in funding for their business ideas.

Maurice Torano, owner of The Human Bean in Odessa, was awarded $150,000. Alec Gonzales, owner of Infinite Coolers, and associate Celso Gomez, were awarded $125,000. Marissa and Scott Rossell, owners of StreetBound Food Truck Finder, were awarded $75,000.

SBDC Business Consultant Bryan Bierwirth organized the challenge and worked one-on-one with participants.

“The spirit of the challenge is to possibly give funding to entrepreneurs that have the drive and the know-how and that really want to boost the economy, start their own business and hire people but they just don’t have the funding to do it,” Bierwirth said. “The judges narrow down to the very best that are ready now and have the highest chance of success, and those people get the funding they need and get to make their dreams come true right now.”

Marissa Rossell said the competition was both exciting and exhausting.

“We couldn’t have done it without the small business development center,” she said. “They were there from day one helping us write our initial business plan. Even if we hadn’t won the challenge we still would have been set up for success.”

Marissa Rossell described the SouthBound app as a tool that connects customers to food trucks using live GPS tracking, an idea she formed about three years ago.

“This idea was actually started in one of my classrooms,” Michael Crain, SBDC executive director and UTPB lecturer of management said.

Crain said it was spectacular seeing her evolve the SouthBound idea into an actual plan with financial projections and ultimately walk away with $75,000.

The app was founded in September 2018 and launched fully in January.

“We have about 15 trucks in the system that are either in the process of signing up or are already on in this area,” she said.

Marissa Rossell estimates there are about 80 active food trucks in SouthBound’s targeted market within the Permian Basin. She said the Odessa Business Challenge funds will be used to further develop the SouthBound app, add new features and expand to new markets.

Bierwirth said the competition provides more than just an investment in local entrepreneurs.

“The more diverse businesses that come to the city, the more sustainable the city will be when there is an oil bust,” he said. “Organic growth is really important because the City is reinvesting in entrepreneurs rather than the hard task of trying to recruit businesses to come here.”

Crain said pride should come from within the city and the center is committed to helping Odessans grow their businesses long after the challenge ends.