Starke County Economic Development Foundation


Competition creates base for robust, energetic entrepreneurial community


Playing on the name of the cut-throat competition on TV, Starke Tank puts local entrepreneurs in the spotlight to pitch their businesses and vie for prize money.

“Each contestant has to present their vision on stage in front of an audience. That’s nerve-wracking, but it also builds confidence and gives them an opportunity to tell potential customers about their business,” said Executive Director Lisa Dan. “In the past, we’ve had participants who didn’t win tell us they got residual business thanks to the exposure from Starke Tank.”

The power duo has been at the center of the special event for four years, and each and every year, it continues to grow and create an even stronger base in the county and entrepreneurial community.

The team credits the success to the event’s fun environment, prizes, promotion and exposure opportunities, and the name itself as it is unique and memorable.

“The prize money comes from sponsors, and Starke Tank enjoys strong support from our established local businesses and economic development partners. NIPSCO, Kankakee Valley REMC, and Wabash Valley Power Alliance have been enthusiastic sponsors since we started because they understand how important a strong, vibrant small business community is,” Executive Assistant Mary Perren said. “Each year more local businesses have stepped up to sponsor, which really brings the community together and helps to spread the word about Starke Tank. It also underscores how foundational having a vibrant small business community is to Starke County’s overall prosperity.”

The contest goes beyond just entrepreneurs and is a platform for additional community connections.

“There’s no charge to get in, but we do encourage donations to the Community Services of Starke County food pantry, which is another way to provide a service to our community. This year, we collected 94 pounds of food and a $20 cash donation, all of which was redistributed in the community,” Dan said.

As the twosome continues to cultivate the competition, they are proud of their previous winners who have gone on to additional accolades as well as opportunities.

Prior winners Cheryl Smith, who owns The Point Drive In in North Judson, and Irelynd Fornelli, of Irelynd Alexis Boutique in Knox, were recognized by the Society of Innovators at Purdue Northwest and Leadership Institute at Purdue Northwest. Dalton Tunis of Bone Boss Game Calls was invited to participate in One Million Cups and is working with the owner of the ACE Hardware stores in North Judson and Winamac to get his products into local stores. Abrams Studios, who won the inaugural pitch competition in 2020, previously won an E-Day award.

“Our judges are all from outside of the area and have backgrounds in entrepreneurial business development,” Dan said. “One of them told us after this year’s event that she would like to do something similar in her community because she thinks it is so beneficial and enjoyable. That is one of the highest compliments we can receive.”

The Foundation is also vital to creating an entrepreneurial community to help keep Starke County’s momentum humming. The team works to bring together those hoping to launch or grow a business with the correct resources and tools. The NWI Small Business Development Center business advisors are a key partner to offer one-on-one guidance to Starke County clients.

“We are connectors. When someone calls or stops by, we listen closely to what they are looking for and give them information about where to get what they need, whether it’s a zoning variance, a small business loan, or something else,” Perren said. “We introduce people, facilitate connections, and follow up to make sure they get what they need.”

Bottom line, Dan and Perren enjoy the people behind the businesses.

“Entrepreneurs are passionate people. They are very driven and goal-oriented, and their enthusiasm for their work is infectious, in a good way of course,” Dan said. “One of the most rewarding parts of this job is helping people turn their visions into reality.”


Starke County Economic Development Foundation

1915 S. Heaton St. in Knox