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Toffee maker wins $30K prize in pitch contest at LTU

Release Date: April 13, 2017

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SOUTHFIELD -- An entrepreneur selling the toffee that his dad used to make for his fellow Detroit firefighters won $30,000 in cash and marketing services Thursday at the final Lawrence Technological University - WWJ Newsradio 950 Leaders & Innovators event of the school year, held Thursday on the LTU campus.

Andrew Chmielewiski told the panel of judges that he dropped out of college to start his candy company, called Dave’s Sweet Tooth in honor of his father, using his father’s recipes. Starting out at home, Chmielewski said the candy is now made in a 5,000-square-foot plant in Harrison Township and the company will break $1 million in sales this year.

Chmielewski said he’ll use the prize -- $10,000 in cash, $10,000 in advertising on WWJ and $10,000 in advertising in Corp! magazine – to expand his business. It’s already selling at almost 5,000 stores around the country.

Before the pitch contest, a lively panel discussion explored the concept of work-life balance. Jeff Shane, president of Allison & Taylor Inc., a Rochester-based reference and background checking company, noted that work life balance concepts like flextime and remote work can be a double-edged sword – being able to work from anywhere means you can be asked to work at any time.

His advice for employees and employers: “In the interviewing process, know what you want, and understand what they are looking for on the other end, so there are no unpleasant surprises.”

Sally Seymour, manager of wellness and health promotion for the insurer Health Alliance Plan, said overwork can be a major health problem, and that her employer offers resources for helping both employers and employees work around balance issues. She also said statistics show one in five people misses a workday a month due to personal-life conflicts.

Moderator Murray Feldman, WWJ business editor, also pointed out that there’s a disconnect between what employers and employees believe about work-life balance, with a 2016 survey showing that 63 percent of managers believe their employees have a good balance, but only 34 percent of employees believing it.

And Robin Ankton, regional vice president at the staffing firm Robert Half International, noted that the very technology that makes people so productive can be a major distraction in the workplace.

Other finalists in the pitch competition were:

  • Marcia’s Munchies, a West Bloomfield Township-based pickle producer started out of the home recipes of founder Marcia Nadal. Its products have won three national awards and are sold at Busch’s markets in the Detroit area, and are about to move into Kroger. More at marciasmunchiesusa.com.
  • Spellbound, a company bringing augmented reality to children’s books to help distract children from unpleasant health care procedures. Its technology is already being used at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. More at getspellboundbooks.com.
  • The End Grain Woodworking Co. LLC, a Detroit company formed to re-use the flooring, doors and other lumber in the thousands of abandoned homes being torn down in Detroit, and keep those often beautiful building materials out of landfills. More at endgraindetroit.us.
  • Eli Tea, a Birmingham tea shop and wholesale tea supplier to stores ranging from Shinola to the Detroit Institute of Arts gift shop. More at eliteabar.com.
  • Pop-Post Inc., an online entertainment platform for, by, and about female artists, designers, creators, and fans of entertainment content. More at pop-post.com.
  • Modern Craft Wine, an Au Gres winery with the mission of de-snobifying the wine drinking experience, producing wines that are meant to be mixed with other beverages. The company also has tasting rooms in Harrisville, West Branch and Clare, and is soon opening new tasting rooms in Wyandotte and Frankenmuth. More at https://moderncraftwine.com.
  • Sisters on a Roll, a Detroit mobile café offering a food truck and catering services, with a motto of “food prepared from the heart with the soul in mind, giving you the taste of love in every bite. More at http://sistersonaroll.biz/.
  • Human Hoist LLC, a Mayville manufacturer of a mechanized chair that eliminates bending, crouching and other risky movements in manufacturing and rehabilitation settings. The company is currently building a few of its $12,500 chairs a month, but plans to add staff soon based on demand. More at humanhoist.com.
  • Acting Out Productions, a Taylor-based theater production company that teaches kids presentation skills while donating proceeds to causes, ranging from soldiers overseas to homeless shelters to a local mom battling cancer.