Meals for the hungry, services for seniors and … artisanal pickles?

Those are among the six big ideas that local entrepreneurs could receive a $50,000 prize from the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation to get their businesses off the ground.

Rhea Yap, director of donor and fund development at OPRF Community Foundation, said the Big Ideas entrepreneur contest was established last year under the foundation’s giving group Entrepreneur Leaders in Philanthropy.

Forty businesses and business owners in an around Oak Park contributed $2,500 each – Wednesday Journal Inc. included – to fund the contest.

Yap said the idea of the contest was to fund a startup business idea that is “transformative to the Oak Park River Forest community.”

“It was very difficult for us to determine the finalists because there were such great ideas,” Yap said.

Thirty-nine applicants submitted their ideas to the philanthropy group, and six were chosen as the finalists.

The six finalists as described by the OPRF Community Foundation include:

  • Arbor West Senior Neighbors – Research shows seniors do best when they live in their homes as long as possible. The idea is for Arbor West Senior Neighbors to create a network of neighbor volunteer support of multiple generations for older adults in our community so they can “age in place.”
  • Knockout Pickles – A farm-to-jar artisanal pickle enterprise. The idea is that Warriors of Opportunity Knocks, who are young people with developmental disabilities, power this enterprise.
  • Living Landscapes Project – An idea that could turn residents’ lawns into more productive, biodiverse space, such as organic native and/or edible gardens.
  • Recycling and Reuse Park – The park would be a consolidation point to divert material from landfills that could be recycled.
  • The Surplus Project – Volunteers package surplus cafeteria food – which is still good but otherwise would be thrown out – into individual meal containers that are then distributed to local agencies who serve people who are hungry.
  • Time Exchange Project – You know the phrase time is money? With the Time Exchange Project, the idea is that you don’t necessarily need to have money to purchase goods and services. You could convert your own time into purchasing power.

The six finalists will pitch their ideas, in the style of the popular television show “Shark Tank,” to the members of the Entrepreneur Leaders in Philanthropy donors on Feb. 25 at Wire, 6815 Roosevelt Road in Berwyn. The event starts at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the public. Tickets are $40.

Yap said the event is the first of its kind for the Community Foundation, but the group expects to hold the contest again next year and into the future.

Money collected from the event and the donors that does not go to the winning entry will be put into a fund to help future events by the Entrepreneur Leaders in Philanthropy group, Yap said.


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