Sarah Wilson might only be 19 years old, but when she saw a problem, she was determined to start a business to provide the solution.
The problem? What to do with your dog(s) when you go on vacation or need to work long hours at work.
The solution? Ms. Wilson – who helps take care of her family’s five dogs– enlisted the help of her younger sister, Kylinn, and launched a pet-sitting service. Ms. Wilson then took the knowledge she gained from taking business classes at Cleveland State Community College and coupled it with experience gained working four years as a veterinary assistant at Sweetwater Veterinary Hospital.
The culmination of that knowledge and experience resulted in her winning the recent Pitch Competition at CSCC, besting four of her fellow business students to take home the $1,000 prize.
The Pitch Competition was modeled after TV’s “Shark Tank,” in which business owners “pitch” ideas to potential investors.
Mr. Wilson will add the $1,000 to the $8,000 she has painstakingly saved for the past few years. This summer, she will spend that money on the purchase of kennels, shelves, fencing and dozens of buckets of paint: She and her family are in the process of renovating a building at 1014 North Main St. in Sweetwater, home to the future Sarah’s Paw Paradise, a boarding kennel and daycare center for dogs.
“I am thrilled to win this competition especially since getting second place last year,” said Ms. Wilson. “It makes the victory sweeter.”
Jessica Johnson, who plans to open a horse boarding facility in Cleveland, won the inaugural competition in 2021.
Ms. Wilson said she was so discouraged after last year’s loss that she didn’t plan to enter this year.
“Luckily my advisor and professor Sandra Godsey encouraged me to join,” she said.
“I’ve enjoyed my time at Cleveland State,” said Ms. Wilson, who graduated with an associate’s degree in entrepreneurship earlier this month. “I have always felt supported there by my professors along the way. With the support system I have gained while at Cleveland State, I feel that I will be more successful in my business journey.”
Ann Zack, small business specialist at the Tennessee Small Business Development Center at CSCC, coached each of the five competitors, who were nominated by the CSCC Business Department. The other participants included Gilzamiret Garcia, Hadassah Painter, Davella Porter and Braden Wingfield.
Rick Platz, who teaches Entrepreneurship at CSCC, said he was impressed by all five student presentations, which consisted of a five-minute pitch followed by a question-and-answer session. “It’s a great opportunity for Sarah,” Mr. Platz said. “It’s also an excellent example of the school’s commitment to entrepreneurship and to the George R. Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.”
Community judges included Frenise Mann, Chattanooga business consultant; Anne Montgomery, professor at Tennessee Wesleyan University; and James Dunn of Simon J Marketing.
Ms. Wilson hopes to open her new business in August. In the meantime, you can find her on Facebook at “Sarah & Kylinns Dog Services.” She plans to set up a booth and sell her homemade dog treats at the Sweetwater Fourth of July Festival.
“I’m so excited about all of this,” she noted. “My building will offer a place for people of the community to bring their beloved pets while they are away. Whether it’s vacation time or a typical work week, their pet will have a safe place to stay.”