Contest Winner Plans to Grow Business One Pop at a Time

The winning businesses celebrate their success at The Community Connect – Investing in Entrepreneurship startup pitch competition at The Venue at Highlander on Sept. 12, 2019. (Photo by Scott Stewart)
Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

Orlanda Whitfield felt amazing after hearing her name announced as the $10,000 winner of a startup pitch competition.

Whitfield took top honors at the Sept. 12 startup pitch competition, called The Community Connect – Investing in Entrepreneurship, for graduates of Catholic Charites’ Microbusiness and Asset Development Program.

The contest was organized by Catholic Charities along with the Omaha Economic Development Corporation, Mutual of Omaha and Mutual of Omaha Bank to support entrepreneurship and economic growth in Omaha.

“We are committed to supporting the growth of area businesses through our Microbusiness Program and strategic collaborations like this,” said Gregg Wilson, executive director of Catholic Charities. “The participants have some great business ideas.”

The competition was held at The Venue at Highland, located at 2120 N. 30th St. Entrepreneurs presented their business plan in front of a live audience and received expert feedback from a panel of judges.

Whitfield, the entrepreneur behind Still Poppin Gourmet Popcorn plans to grow her north Omaha business and start to take on competitors in the industry.

“It really means everything,” she said. “I grew up right around the corner from here, and I went to college and graduated with the intention of opening up a business in north Omaha because I’m passionate about north Omaha.”

Second place, and a check for $3,000, went to Gary Ballard of Haberdash ONE. The third-place prize of $2,000 was split between Diamond Simms of Emery’s Cafe and Sophia Jordan of Black Bottom Biscotti. Other participants in the contest were Valerie Bradford of Divine Nspirations, Justin Young of Culxr House and Tres Johnson of (drips).

The judges were Becky App, co-founder of “Shark Tank” participant eCreamery; Faye Hobley, an entrepreneur; Steve Esposito, managing director of retail banking at Mutual of Omaha Bank; Reginald McGaugh, founder and CEO of Cornhusker Capital LLC; Diva R. Mejias, owner and president of DM Financial Services Inc.; and Karnetta Rushing, vice president of retail branch banking at First National Bank of Omaha.

In addition to the cash prizes, the competitors received valuable feedback and an opportunity to raise their exposure in Omaha.

For Whitfield, though, the prize offers an opportunity to make an investment in growing her business so she can look at expanding.

“My popcorn will still be hand-crafted, but I want equipment that will help with efficiency,” Whitfield said. “I love popcorn. It’s something that I have always loved as a child, growing up and making it with my grandmother. It is really special to me.”

To buy Still Poppin Gourmet Popcorn, visit 2118 N. 24th St. or click to For more on Catholic Charities’ Microbusiness and Asset Development Program, visit

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