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SignOn was the big winner in the inaugural Ford EmpowerHER Social Enterprise Pitch Competition Wednesday taking home $10,000 in prizes and an optional $15,000 investment.
The company, registered in Grosse Pointe Farms as Sign-On Connect. Practice. Retain. LLC, won the growth category. Owned by Ashlee Trempus, SignOn calls its service a virtual immersion program for American Sign Language students. The program offers video services for students to connect with deaf and hard of hearing individuals who have grown up using ASL as a first language.
Other category contestants Detroit-based Detroit Mushroom Factory LLC, West Bloomfield-based Mend on the Move and East Lansing-based Thera B Medical Products Inc. each took home $1,000.
Detroit-based Motor City STEAM LLC won the launch category, which includes $7,500 in prizes and an optional $5,000 investment, and the audience vote worth $1,000. The learning center, which deals with science, technology, engineering, arts and math, will also benefit from $7,500 worth of advisory from Southfield-based Mission Throttle. It's led by Alecia Gabriel, Chinonye Akunne and Deirdre Roberson, who are on a mission to expose students to STEM careers.
Other category contestants Oak Park-based Bags To Butterflies L3C and Detroit-based Women Who Weld also won $1,000 in prizes. Women Who Weld also received $7,500 in advisory services from Mission Throttle.
Huntington Woods-based Every Two Minutes won the ideation category, which is a $2,500 prize. Owners Erin Rose and Kayla Schindler are working to offer a mobile app that includes prevention education, skills and on-demand tools to help young people combat sexual violence.
Other category contestants Warren-based Branches and Bridges, Highland Park-Antique Touring and Huntington Woods-based Purnell Provisions Co. all won $1,000 in prizes.
The EmpowerHER initiative is a collaboration between the Michigan Women's Foundation and Ford Motor Co. Fund, which provided $137,000 to cover the program and prize money. Up to $50,000 in cash prizes were to be awarded to presenting groups, but Mission Throttle boosted funding to a total of $64,000 with two $7,500 advisory grants that were awarded to Motor City STEAM and Women Who Weld.
The winning enterprises can use the investments to support the creation, launch or growth of a business service or product that strives to solve community issues in Michigan.