| Marion Star
A news media network. A sanitary device company. An educational nature center for children.
These were some of the businesses presented for the fourth annual The Forge Business Plan Competition. However, two other businesses would go on to take the top prizes. Drake Tulloh, the owner of car service company, Painless Fleet Maintenance and Brooke Olson, the founder of vending machine company, Ability Vending.
Tulloh won $2,500 in the for-profit division of the competition, while Olson was awarded $1,000 in the nonprofit section.
The Forge is a business competition hosted by Marion Technical College. The event is usually held on campus, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the competition went virtual this fall. The six participants and four judges logged in to Zoom, while the audience watched on Facebook Live. Since the entrepreneurs could not give a presentation in person, they each made a short video that was pre-recorded ahead of the event.
Painless Fleet Maintenance is a mobile service that can provide fleet services on-site, such as oil changes, brake repair and tire rotation. Unlike many auto repair shops, PFM offers service after normal business hours and on weekends.
“Zero downtime, really zero effort,” Tulloh said in the video. “All you have to do is pick up the phone or shoot us an email and we’ll get you scheduled in and then you’re done.”
Tulloh told the Star Friday he got the idea for PFM after working as a technician in the auto repair field for 13 years.
“I watched fleets come in and they always get back-burnered two, three days out,” he said. “For a lot of these fleets, that can be easily $10,000 in loss revenue each day. It’s more than just the cost of repair, they’re losing a lot of money by having their cars sit in the shops.”
The Mount Gilead resident only started PFM about two months ago and heard about The Forge through a friend who knows the host and MTC Director of Workforce Solutions Michael Augenstein. Tulloh said the seven-week course prior to the competition was sometimes difficult due to being taught virtually. However, he said he and his 13 classmates were still able to collaborate. After submitting their business plans, instructor Scott Hughes then selected six people to move on to the competition. Tulloh and the others only had a week to create their presentation videos.
Tulloh said he plans to use the $2,500 on marketing and promotions for PFM.
“I got to meet a lot of great people through The Forge and I really look forward to connecting with them and networking,” he said. “It’s been a great opportunity. I learned a lot and I really look forward to putting everything that I learned into action.”
A chance at job identity
Meanwhile, Ability Vending is a vending machine service that provides employment opportunities to those with autism. Olson’s inspiration for the organization came from her 15-year-old son, Amick.
“Our jobs and careers are part of our identity,” she said in the video. “Without this, we begin to feel the effects of our mental health, overall happiness and purpose. Eighty percent of autistic adults are without this important foundation of identity.”
Olson said product is priced at a 200% markup and when vending machines are in a profitable location, sales of two machines can cover an employee’s salary, franchise fees and operating expenses.
The nonprofit side of the business would be the Ability Vending Foundation, in which parents and stakeholders in various communities would receive assistance in becoming a franchisee. Assistance would include creating a LLC, insurance, operating licenses and payroll. Olson also wants to work with other nonprofits, such as Rotary clubs and fraternal organizations and apply for grants to fund the machines and the startup costs.
Olson told the Star Friday that she came up with the company in June. The vending machine idea came from her son, who enjoys buying from them. Moving forward, the Powell resident plans to work with an attorney to officially become a nonprofit and working with parents to get their children involved.
“I really enjoyed it,” Olson said of The Forge. “I enjoyed seeing everyone else’s presentations, too.”
Four years strong
The Forge was created by the Marion Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Leadership Marion Class. Scott Hughes, a faculty member at MTC, is the instructor for The Forge. All classes are conducted by MTC. Previous winners of the competition were Cindy Binns, owner and operator of the Explore-It-Torium children’s museum in downtown Marion, Rachel McCall and Pia Douglas of The Art Center Ltd., Jessica Coleman, founder and operator of Leading Ladies Ohio and Jason Jordan, owner and operator of Jordan Energy Alternative.
Besides Tulloh and Olson, this year’s finalists also included Zac Fuller of the Marion Ohio News Network, James Emery of Emray Technologies, Tammy Brammer of Marion Midget Football and Tyler Butler of the Terradise Nature Center.
For more information, visit mtc.edu/theforge.