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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, July 13, 2019 1:00 am

Cowboys' Smith picks winning entrepreneurs

JAMIE DUFFY and LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne entrepreneur Dre Muhammad said he was confident in his business, Traction Athletic Performance but didn't necessarily believe he'd end up one of the top winners in the Jaylon Smith Minority Entrepreneurship Institute business competition.

“It just happened the way I wanted it to happen,” Muhammad said after he took second place.

Friday evening at Parkview Field, he stood with five finalists vying to be one of three chosen for a business investment and came up a winner.

South Bend CEO and co-founder of Hurry Home, Jada McLean took home first; Nick Turner, CEO and founder of DeliverEnd in Indianapolis, was named third. Smith's associates at the event said the three winners would receive an investment of between $100,000 and $200,000 in their enterprise.

The top five participated in an invitation-only pitch competition Friday evening at Parkview Field's Suite Level Lounge.

Smith, a Bishop Luers High School and University of Notre Dame graduate who now stars with the Dallas Cowboys, has said he wants young people to succeed.

Even for young people with athletic skill, Smith wants them to look beyond sports to see the potential for success. And for some, that will mean starting and running a business.

The Jaylon Smith Minority Entrepreneurship Institute describes itself as a vehicle for “connecting impact investors to quality and meaningful minority-owned investment opportunities.”

The local contest was announced in March, and Smith plans to replicate the inaugural event in other areas.

The event follows the format of reality show “Shark Tank,” with contestants pitching business ideas to established entrepreneurs.

The three judges joined Smith in evaluating Friday's pitch competition – Jane DeHaven, principal in Summit City Chevrolet; Gary Brackett, Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl champion and Stacked Pickle CEO; and Mark Music, Ruoff Home Mortgage owner and CEO.

After asking questions and critiquing the finalists' business plans, organizers said they would advise Smith in private as he made the final decision.

Seven participating organizations, including Smith Academy for Excellence, the Euell Wilson Center and Girls Rock helped pull together an audience of 100 minority families to watch the competition.

Michael Ledo, Smith's business manager and the institute's executive chairman, said the goal was to educate and inspire youth by letting them see adults who look like them launching business ventures.

jduffy@jg.net

lisagreen@jg.net