Sacramento business startups compete for downtown partnership funding – Sacramento Bee

If things go right this fall, Ana Manzano will end her run as a nomadic retailer chasing street fairs and open a brick-and-mortar store in downtown Sacramento selling her eco-friendly baby gear.

Manzano, 30, and her company ana apple were this year’s winner of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership’s “Calling All Dreamers” business competition. Manzano, a Hawaii native, will receive $135,000 in startup incentives that include a year of free rent. Manzano said she wants to be in the Old Sacramento location she’s selected by September and ready to take advantage of holiday sales. Manzano started her brand five years ago, but it really found its inspiration through Manzano’s effort to be a good aunt to her nieces.

“I didn’t just want to buy them the same clothing that everyone else can,” she said.

Soon, she was sewing things for others and attending vendor events like the GOOD: street food + design market on Del Paso Boulevard. This year, she is finally able to call it her full-time job after years of working the business around bartending shifts.

The contest is in its second year in Sacramento. It grew out of a Downtown Sacramento Partnership study that suggests there is a strong desire for a “vibrant urban retail experience.” Organizers say the contest not only recruits business, but also changes the perception of doing business downtown. In its first year, it drew 49 applicants. This year, the contest drew 33 applicants.

Last year’s winner was Andy Paul. Paul entered the competition as a self-proclaimed “candy freak” without a business. Now he’s the proud owner of Andy’s Candy Apothecary at 1012 Ninth St.

“I’ve always been pretty passionate about candy. For me, it became a hobby to find really good candy,” said Paul, 42. “Everybody likes candy, but some people love it.”

He had a list of candy places he liked, but no business plan or sales when he – with help from his wife – entered the competition.

“We applied, but we thought our chances were pretty slim,” he said.

The contest’s 49 applicants were trimmed to 11 candidates, said Lisa Martinez, a spokeswoman for the partnership. The candidates were then paired with mentors in their industry. The 11 semifinalists had their business plans poked, prodded and refined. Then, based on the new plans and their 60-second pitches, five finalists were selected.

The public vote was considered but wasn’t the final arbiter, Martinez said. The Dailey Method gym received $5,000 in cash and $60,000 in services and opened a downtown location in January.

But the uniqueness of Andy’s Candy helped make it the grand prizewinner, officials said.

“He was a very dynamic personality,” said Valerie Mamone-Werder, the partnership’s business development manager. “We knew his business would do well downtown.”

Paul said about halfway through the vetting process, he and his wife decided they’d start a business – possibly online only – if they didn’t win. The submitted plan called for roving sales at community events and an online sales component. But the retail business proved to be so active, they’re just now getting to those efforts.

Business was brisk within the colorful store on Wednesday. Curtis Park resident Anna de Kok was among the shoppers.

“I love the high-quality, international, eclectic mix,” said de Kok, who was with her 2-year-old daughter. “It’s very ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’ 

Before she left, she picked up gifts for Father’s Day, teacher appreciation and graduations.

Downtown Sacramento Partnership officials hope ana apple will experience similar success.

But Manzano plans to do more than just retail once she has a storefront. She plans to use some of her space for community building with classes, art projects and workshops for kids.

“It will have the same personality as our product line,” Manzano said. Her website anaapple.com displays her “Nerd Alert Bib” with a bow tie and pocket sewn on, music-inspired turntable bodysuits, and similarly styled handmade shirts for bigger kids and adults. She envisions working with Mustard Seed School and Big Brother Big Sisters, but first there is the not-so-small matter of raising $10,000 to earn her matching money from the partnership.

As of press time, she’s earned just under $2,000 of her $10,000 goal on the crowd-funding site indiegogo.com. In the campaign video, she talks about developing her dream while also helping future dreamers.

“I would love nothing more than to do my part in inspiring the next generation of dreamers,” she said.

Call The Bee’s Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @NewsFletch.

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