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2020 ‘Calling All Dreamers’ contest canceled, past winners given grants to weather coronavirus

The annual contest has awarded entrepreneurs approximately $100k in money & services to launch their dream. But during the pandemic, they're just hoping to survive.
Credit: ABC10

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The 2020 “Calling All Dreamers” small business contest, put on by the Downtown Sacramento Foundation, was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since 2013, the annual contest has awarded entrepreneurs approximately $100k in money and in-kind services (such as marketing, legal expertise, etc.) to launch their dream of opening a storefront business in downtown Sacramento. 

But as with most everything else nowadays, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown a wet blanket on things.

“There was just so much uncertainty we felt we needed to focus on supporting current business efforts,” said Emilie Cameron, public affairs and communications director for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership.

So, in place of this year’s contest, the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, with the support of Kaiser Permanente and SMUD, is providing grant money of up to $5,000 to support the previous winners during this difficult time.

Credit: Downtown Sacramento Partnership
Heather Wong of The Allspicery

The money is meant to support the businesses in addressing impacts of the pandemic like meeting new safety requirements, new inventory to support reopening, business operational costs, and marketing and communications activities.

“We know this is a significant grant, but it is a drop in the bucket to run a business,” Cameron said.

The fact of that statement is painfully apparent as two of the past seven winners, Milk House Shakes and Andy’s Candy, have already succumbed to the nightmare scenario brought on by COVID-19.

Andy Paul, the owner of Andy’s Candy, told ABC10 low foot traffic caused by the pandemic is why he has to close both his stores on 9th Street and in DOCO. Still, he said he hopes to reopen when things go back to normal.

Each business has already been made aware of the grants. Two have already applied and accepted their grant money while the two remaining businesses are still assessing how they will use the funds, Cameron said.

It’s too early to know what the 2021 Calling All Dreamers contest will look like, but Cameron says it’s going to happen if the pandemic has passed.

“We look forward to bringing [the contest] back in 2021 and welcoming a new class of downtown dreamers,” Cameron said.

Calling All Dreamers usually opens in April, according to Cameron. Approximately 40 prospective entrepreneurs typically apply, and that number is whittled down to 10 semifinalists. Those semifinalists are then paired with their own business mentor, who helps guide the entrepreneurs in creating their plan.

Even though only one winner receives the grand prize, Cameron says the runners-up benefit from all the competition and coaching. In fact, she says 24 semifinalists have gone on to open up businesses around the city.

The Calling All Dreamers past winners are Andy's Candy (2013), Ana Apple (2014), The Allspicery (2015), Oblivion Comics & Coffee (2016), Milk House Shakes (2017), NEO Escape Rooms (2018), and Nash & Proper (2019).

Credit: Downtown Sacramento Partnership
Cecil Rhodes II & Jake Bombard of Nash & Proper

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