Grand Rapids, Mich. – The Michigan Small Business Development Center (Michigan SBDC) today announces the finalists of PITCH BLACK, a new and entertaining Grand Rapids pitch competition on Thursday, September 28, 2023.

Finalists include:

  • Maneeka Beasley – Cakes by the Jar
  • Yvonne Cones – Age N Grace
  • Valerie James – VSJ Fitness
  • Crystal Palasek – Lost Fawn Winery
  • Bertina Polk – My Little Love Bugs Childcare
  • Jessica Ann Tyson – BEASTRO, Fresh Canine Cuisine
  • Jina Rockwell – Rockwell Earthworks

A complete list of contestants and their contact information can be found at, and a webinar of what it’s like to be a contestant and pitch is scheduled for Tuesday, September 26. Register at

PITCH BLACK was created in 2021 in response to the detrimental effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on Black-owned businesses in Muskegon County. The highly successful competition is now scheduled for Grand Rapids and focuses on Black-owned businesses operating in Kent County.

In August, 20 Black business owners were selected from a pool of applicants to be contestants and received pitch training to prepare them to present to a panel of Black judges during the preliminary rounds. Five to seven contestants will then be chosen as finalists and pitch for their share of $10,000 in front of a live studio audience. “The fever is building for this unique event. It’s sort of like Shark Tank meets America’s Got Talent,” explained Ed Garner, West Michigan Regional Director for the Michigan SBDC. “It will be on an auditorium stage in a game show style fashion – with a Black host, Black contestants, Black judges, Black music, Black dancers and even Men in Black.  It’s our way of uplifting the Black business community and is part of our DEI initiative called Uplift Michigan™, a strategic movement designed to ensure equitable access for all diverse entrepreneurs across Michigan.”

Prior to the competition there will also be a business and resource showcase featuring all 20 contestants and selected organizations that support Black-owned businesses. The competition and showcase will take place on Thursday, September 28 in the Loosemore Auditorium at Grand Valley State University’s DeVos Center, 401 W. Fulton Street in Grand Rapids. The showcase opens at 5 p.m. and the competition will start at 6:30 p.m.

PITCH BLACK Grand Rapids is sponsored by Comerica Bank, Huntington Bank, Choice One Bank and Fifth Third Bank. Three cash prizes will be presented by the Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at GVSU. The 1st Place Grand Prize is $5,000, with a 2nd place prize of $3,500, and a 3rd place prize of $1,500.  The prize money can be used for any legitimate business purpose.

This event and parking are free and open to the public, but registration is encouraged due to space limitations. All audience members are asked to dress in casual black attire. For more information (including a list of the contestants and judges) and to register go to

About the Michigan Small Business Development Center 

The Michigan Small Business Development Center’s mission is to provide no-cost consulting, business education, market research and technology commercialization to new and existing businesses throughout Michigan’s 83 counties. Michigan SBDC services are available through the support of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

The MI-SBDC is committed to fostering and sustaining a culture of inclusion through equitable outreach and service to Michigan’s diverse business community. Entrepreneurs and small business owners may access the services of their nearest Michigan SBDC office by visiting

The MI-SBDC is hosted on a state level by Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business. Regional hosts include Saginaw Valley State University, Grand Valley State University, Western Michigan University, Mid Michigan College, Michigan Technological University, Kettering University, Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College and Lansing Community College.


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