On Wednesday, May 31st, Cindy Applebaum, President/Publisher of the Albany Business Review; Angela Beddoe, Publisher/Editor of HERLIFE Magazine; Fran O’Rourke, Capital Region Market

Leader of KeyBank, our Sponsor; and Michael Yevoli, Capital Region Director for Empire State Development listened attentively while 11 entrepreneurs pitched their businesses in the hopes of winning the Capital Region 2017 InnovateHER Challenge.

The top prize, $1,700 for a trip to Washington DC to compete in the finals, went to ExtendHer, LLC, an innovative company that has increased the functionality of outer garments with their development of a USA-made clip-on extension panel that is compatible with most zippered jackets or coats. The product easily attaches to both sides of the wearer’s coat, creating more room for expecting moms during pregnancy and family members while babywearing.

Grand Prize Winner: Extendher, LLC

Created by Maria Messier and her Aunt Joanne Frank, Extendher was born out of necessity when Maria was pregnant with twins and couldn’t zip her coat. At the time, she wore her husband’s but later at a family gathering, she talked with her Aunt, an experienced fashion designer. Seven prototypes later, they had the solution and in 2015, Extendher, LLC was launched.  Extendher is sold at stores locally and online.

The second and third place prizes went to Bird’s Brew, a non-alcoholic craft beer brewery, and Healthy On Lark, a Cafe/Juice bar on Lark Street in Albany, respectively. Sharon Lastique, owner of Healthy On Lark, graduated from our 8-week business planning course in 2013.

Second Prize Winner: Bird’s Brew

The Community Loan Fund/ACES was chosen as the Capital Region sponsor for the SBA InnovateHER Challenge, a national prize competition aimed at spotlighting products and services that impact and empower the lives of women and their families. The Challenge was sponsored locally by KeyBank, enabling the winner to represent the Capital Region in DC, should they make it through the semi-finals.

Third Prize Winner: Healthy On Lark

The winner of the local challenge will advance to the semi-final round of the challenge and her name will be submitted to the SBA. The ten finalists from local competitions throughout the U.S. that best meet the Challenge criteria will be selected to advance to the final round of the competition. If selected as a finalist, the Capital Region winner will compete against finalists from other regions. Each finalist will be offered the opportunity to participate in the InnovateHER Final Challenge to be held in September where they will make a live marketing pitch to a panel of expert judges selected from the private sector. Finalists will compete for one of three cash prizes totaling $70,000.

For a complete description of the Challenge, please click SBA Challenge Rules.

For more information about the SBA Innovate Challenge, please click here. For more information about the Capital Region Challenge, please contact Destiny Watkins at (518) 436-8586 x802 or email Destiny Watkins


Special thanks to KeyBank for its generous support.

Local InnovateHer Press Release 2016 finalist

Past winners of the SBA National InnovateHER Challenge