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College of Liberal Arts
University of Mississippi

Top New Business: Cotton’s Café Takes $10K Prize

Alumna Janet McCarty (BA art ’14) won first place in the AdvoCare Entrepreneur Challenge for her idea to sell homemade, healthy dog treats

May 24, 2015 | BY ALYSSA SCHNUGG
Courtesy of The Oxford Eagle 

When Janet McCarty brought home the tiny abandoned dog that she later named Cotton, she took on more than just caring for a new pet. Cotton had many health issues, including allergies and a sensitive stomach.

 McCarty started making homemade treats for her beloved dog from natural, locally produced honey. Cotton’s health improved and an idea was born.

In March 2014, McCarthy launched her new dog cookie business, Cotton’s Café Dog Treat Barkery: Farm to Dog Bowl; however, being new to entrepreneurship, she needed some help to get her businesses off the ground. A few months later, she heard of the AdvoCare Entrepreneur Challenge that would work with, and reward, new or expanding businesses. The challenge lasted nine months of having to compete with other businesses, putting her in touch with local business coaches and experts, and reworking her business plan — more than a few times.

 On Thursday, the months of hard work paid off.

 After doing her third and final pitch before a panel of local business owners, McCarty won first place and a $10,000 prize.

Lots of work, refining business plan 

“I am very excited and lost for words,” she said. “It was a long and grueling process and it took a lot of work — lots of meetings and refining my business plan and making it something I can show investors and banks.”

McCarty said the $10,000 would go toward making more treats that are made from scratch with local produce. Her dog treats are sold all over Mississippi and she recently got them into Whole Foods markets. She rents the kitchen at the National Guard Armory where she and a handful of part-time employees make the treats.

The AdvoCare challenge is not the first award her new business has won. She also won the University of Mississippi Gillespie Business Plan Competition for Best Business Plan, Best Special Entrepreneurship Idea and Best Idea for Mississippi.

 The AdvoCare Entrepreneur Challenge was a business plan/pitch competition sponsored by AdvoCare and the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation. In October, eight teams attended an orientation session where they committed to the nine-month competition process that has put them before experienced business coaches who have acted as advisers and guides toward additional assistance. These coaching sessions prepared the competitors for three Pitch Nights (elimination rounds) where they were required to showcase their business plans to a group of North Mississippi business leaders.

“Ecosystem for entrepreneurs 

Through this competition we hope to create an ecosystem for entrepreneurs,” said Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce/EDF president and CEO Jon Maynard. “We want to grow our businesses from within, and grow Oxford without changing the small-town culture of which we are known.”

On Thursday, the final five teams competed in the final Pitch Night. Along with Cotton’s Café, the other four remaining competing business teams were Arts Advantage, Bliss Handcrafted Ice Cream, Y’all Twins? and Satterfield Pottery.

Arts Advantage, presented by Wayne Andrews took home the second-place prize and $5,000. Bliss Handcrafted Ice Cream won third place and $2,500.

“It was a tough process but obviously very much worth it,” said Andrews, who is the director of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council. “I think it’s the best idea to get businesses to grow in Lafayette County. We had this idea for a while, but getting into this process made us move forward.”

 Arts Advantage will help local and regional art and musical events by marketing them as a group to large companies for sponsorships.