When Jessica Ellis moved her family from Olympia to a 53-acre family farm in Montesano to start a premium dog kenneling business that would use solar power, recycled building materials, non-toxic homemade cleaning product, and native landscaping, there were many naysayers. Today, eighteen months after opening the gates to Freedom Acres Dog Boarding, Ellis is booked 2 months in advance, and during high summer season she turns away four to five customers a week.
“You have to be more determined than the problem in front of you,” says Ellis, who has overcome more than just negative perceptions. Unforeseen land-use and zoning issues were among the more painful barriers. But Ellis also found that commercial lenders didn’t want to fund a fledgling entrepreneur with a non-traditional startup business idea.
“Organizations and lending institutions say they want to help rural small business,” notes Ellis, “and they say they’ll support women and veterans. But no one would loan me money. This is a huge disconnect in my mind.”
Then, in the spring of 2016, Ellis heard about Washington Coast Works Small Business Competition. Ellis had scraped together savings to build a four-kennel cabin and got the courage to quit a vet assistant job to devote herself fulltime to Freedom Acres. Now she needed to scale up and add another cabin with 6 kennels to make her venture viable.
The 5 months of preparation for the Coast Works Competition paid off and Ellis won the top prize of $10,000 to build a second “K9 Cabin.”
“Winning the award was such an honor,” says Ellis. “We not only got the funding to allow us to build our business, we were acknowledged for the social decisions and sustainable choices we were already making.”
On Thursday, November 9, at Olympic Theatre Arts in Sequim, Washington, ten of this year’s Coast Works finalists will compete for the 2017 award funding. The title sponsor is KeyBank and all competing businesses are “triple-bottom-line”, designed to generate profits with significant social and environmental benefits. The FastPitch presentations by the finalists are free and open to the public. Join us at OTA from 1:15 to 4:30 pm to be inspired.
Ellis will be there to cheer on her fellow entrepreneurs, and to present the awards at the evening banquet.
“I know what the award funding will mean to this year’s winner. I am looking forward to the event and sharing in the excitement and the celebration.”