Mercy Corps Northwest pitch competition grants $10,000 to three women-owned small businesses

Em Collier, Brittany Ashworth, Azure Attoe
Em Collier, Brittany Ashworth, and Azure Attoe (pictured from left) were the winners of Mercy Corps Northwest's first pitch competition for small businesses.

July 01, 2019

Mercy Corps Northwest hosted a pitch competition “shark-tank style” for small business owners in the Portland area this month. Over 60 small businesses applied to join the competition and just nine were selected to present their business pitch to a group of judges.

Azure Attoe from Project Portland, LLC won first place and was awarded $5,000 to expand art education within the Portland community. Em Collier from Em Collier Frames and Brittany Ashworth from Premier Cirque won second and third place and were granted $2,500 each to further develop their small businesses. This event is the first of its kind for Mercy Corps Northwest, serving as an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to engage in friendly competition alongside the greater Portland small business community. 

Meet the winners

Azure attoe
Azure Attoe from Project Portland, LLC, won first place and was awarded $5,000 to expand art education within the Portland community.

First-place winner: Azure Attoe, Project Portland, LLC

Azure Attoe is a hard-working entrepreneur, and former Mercy Corps Northwest small business grant – or IDA – recipient, who is driven to use art as a means to connect the community. As owner of Project Portland, LLC she teaches classes to children, installs art in museums and galleries, and proudly makes her own art that she sells within the community. She will be using her winnings – which she accounted for down to the dollar – to expand her reach online, expand her class materials and expand her online art collection. Attoe won over the judges by showing her meticulous spending habits, dedication to improving her business know-how, and creative solutions for integrating art into children’s lives outside of school.

Em collier holding check
Em Collier from Em Collier Frames won 2nd place and a $2,500 grant to further develop her small businesses.

Second-place winner: Em Collier, Em Collier Custom Framing

Em Collier comes from a family of woodworkers. Over the last 70 years her grandfather and father each ran a woodworking business – passing the craft on from one generation to the next. Collier is proudly the first woman in her family to continue on the legacy. Em Collier Custom Framing are made to honor the craft of supporting intentional consumerism and locally-harvested goods. Each frame she makes is made-to-order for the client with sustainably sourced Pacific Northwest wood.

Her $2,500 grant will go to buying equipment for her small business that will allow her to hire an employee. She hopes to build our her woman-centered team and bring her craft out of the traditional woodworking scene that is 87 percent male. “I’m preferably looking for someone who is female-identifying, trans or non-binary who has an interest in woodworking but finds mainstream woodworking culture to be exclusionary,” says Collier.

Brittany ashworth holding check
Brittany Ashworth from Premier Cirque won 3rd place and a $2,500 grant to further develop her small businesses.

Third-place winner: Brittany Ashworth, Premier Cirque

Brittany Ashworth is an aerialist, acrobat and owner of Washington-based aerial studio, Premier Cirque. With her $2,500 winnings she will be purchasing a laptop to support her accounting, online streaming of classes, and other recording equipment to better show the community what it’s like to “run away with the circus at night and be back at work in the morning.”

About Mercy Corps Northwest small business approach

Lack of access to capital is a primary barrier to growth and is a large problem for small business owners, the people they employ, and the communities that depend on them. We as a life-line or bridge for those small business owners and start-ups that couldn’t get off the ground without our support. Learn more here. 

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