The finalists for the final Destination Downtown challenge are: the Crow Wing Food Co-op, Loidé Oils & Vinegars and Minnesota Makerspace.

All three business ventures are guaranteed prize money, but the ultimate contest winner will be chosen by the public during an online voting campaign this month. All three businesses are guaranteed at least $35,000 in prizes, and the people’s favorite business idea will win the grand prize package valued at $65,000.

The largest prize to date was compiled for this third and final Destination Downtown Business Challenge, which offers entrepreneurs a prize package to help them get the dream of their own business off the ground by offering support and mentors -- all aimed at helping them with a successful launch. The entrepreneurs are challenged with finding a location for their business in the designated downtown zone. They are offered assistance on nearly every front from creating a detailed business plan to marketing, designing a storefront, and choosing a suitable location.

About 80 applicants entered the contest for 2019. Business mentors met with the top 12 to help them hone their business plan.

Voting opens Monday

The voting window for the 2019 Destination Downtown Business Contest winner extends from midnight Nov. 11 to midnight Nov. 15.

Votes may be cast online at downtownbrainerd.org or by paper ballot at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce, where a countdown clock is counting down the minutes to the voting period. Voters may vote for their favorite once each day.

The winner will be revealed Nov. 21 at the chamber’s Celebration of Excellence annual dinner event at Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake.

About the business contest

The community effort behind the Destination Downtown contest debuted in 2017, offering a value in excess of $50,000 to help the winning entrepreneur locate a business in downtown Brainerd.

The Destination Downtown contest was inspired by the Small Business Revolution initiative, championed by the Minnesota-based Deluxe Corp. A few years ago, Deluxe purchased Brainerd business Range.

Deluxe Corp. volunteered $20,000 and a grassroots community initiative started in 2015 fueled by a desire to encourage entrepreneurs and fill vacant storefronts downtown. There were already initiatives to help property owners rehabilitate buildings with grant dollars and private investment was working to transform spaces, but organizers said the business contest brought everything to a new level.

The local business community added $30,000 of value to create the $50,000 prize package that offered resources to help an entrepreneur get started with a goal of giving them advantages to help with first-year success. Some two dozen organizations are involved in the community effort.

The first year of the business challenge contest inspired 49 applications, more than organizers expected. Applicants were pared down in stages until there were three finalists. After working with a coach and putting together a business plan and financials, the finalists made presentations before the 12 judges in a setting not unlike the "Shark Tank" television show.

More than 70 entrepreneurs submitted applications for the 2018 contest with its $50,000 prize package.

With a final contest in 2019, the group decided three business challenges were enough and good headway was made through the effort both in encouraging people to reach for their business dreams and drawing the community’s attention to opportunities in Brainerd and those existing businesses in the city’s core blocks.