COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – With a big grand prize at stake, four local entrepreneurs pitched their small businesses to a panel of judges on Wednesday at Columbus State University.

In front of a live audience, BizPitch Columbus finalists took the stage, pitching their business proposals for the chance to win a grand prize of $15,000. BizPitch, a Shark-Tank inspired pitch competition, serves as a networking opportunity for various local businesses and highlights the importance of economic development in the Chattahoochee Valley.

The finalists included: Rashmi J. Hudson of “Alltimate Luggage”; Michael Williams of “Huneu”; Connell Reynolds of “Travel Kots”; and Alap Shah of “iParaDox.”

There was a heavy community presence as people shuffled into the event and were greeted by various local vendors such as Boss Mom Enterprise, TapWagen Columbus.

Michael Woodham, owner of TapWagen Columbus, is very familiar with the ups and downs that come with starting a new business venture. Woodham graduated from CSU with a degree in entrepreneurship, completed the StartUP Columbus program and opened his business — all in one week. When he thought back to his start as a business owner, he credits StartUP Columbus for the guidance he needed.

“Networking is huge, especially when you’re starting up a business,” said Woodham. “Events like these are perfect opportunities to meet people. There could be someone who you haven’t talked to in several months and now you’re reconnecting with that person, ringing that bell in their ear letting them know you’re still here.”

Each finalist had about 15 minutes to present their business proposal to the judges and audience. After the last chime rang, signaling the finalist to wrap up their pitches, the judges conducted a Q&A with the finalist.

After all of the presentations, the judges had a brief deliberation period while the audience voted for the People’s Choice Award.

Entrepreneur Rashmi Hudson jumped from her seat in excitement as she won The People’s Choice Award and grand prize of $15,000 for her brand, Alltimate Luggage. Hudson won over the crowd with her versatile 3-1 travel set featuring a garment bag that wraps around a generous duffle for a single carry-on bag.

For Hudson, like many business owners, entrepreneurship has had its ups and downs. Even with all of the obstacles, she stayed determined and said it was all worth it.

“It’s a full time job on top of whatever else you are doing but every single second is worth it,” said Hudson. “Every single second because you’re putting your blood, sweat and tears into it and you reap the rewards of it. They may not be tangible right away but it will come.”

The runner up award went to “Travel Kots” created by entrepreneur Connell Reynolds. Travel Kots provides an innovate solution for rest to the travel/leisure and adventure population. Travel Kots added cots to their backpacks and carry on luggage.

StartUP Columbus, SCORE Mentors of Columbus, and the D. Abbott Turner College of Business hosted the contest at CSU’s Cunningham Center for the second year.

Ben MacMinn, StartUP Columbus’ Executive Director, attributes the competition’s success to the community and its intention to support entrepreneurial growth.

“BizPitch Columbus is one of the biggest events that we do,” said MacMinn. “One of the things that we really love about this competition and the entrepreneur ecosystem in Columbus is the people’s support. This is a collaborative effort and a partnership that you don’t see in other communities.”