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Steel Pony Farm rides off with 2012 RED Challenge

Spring planting is still months away, but 2013 has already turned into a bountiful year for Steel Pony Farm.

The local produce grower is the winner of the 2012 RED Challenge, earning owners Mike Kozlowski and Kristen Carlson $20,000 for their business, as well as mentoring and office space.

“We’re really thrilled,” said Kozlowski. “We know that we have a product and a service that Red Deer really cares about and wants right now, and that’s good, clean, fair food. We’re really excited to be given this extra tool to provide that product at an even higher level of quality.”

Organized by Red Deer College, Red Deer Regional Economic Development, the City of Red Deer, Alberta Innovations, and Community Futures Central Alberta, the RED Challenge is designed to help young entrepreneurs develop their creative ideas.

For 2012, the third year it’s been held, the RED Challenge attracted more than 20 entrants.

Each submitted a business idea and was able to take part in a “business planning bootcamp” organized by Community Futures. Four finalists were selected, with these presenting to a panel of judges in a Dragons’ Den format.

Mike Szyszka, creative director of REaction Marketing and spokesperson for the RED Challenge, said Kozlowski and Carlson distinguished themselves during the process.

“The judges were extremely impressed by the concept, and their business plan was incredibly well thought out.”

Operating since 2011, Steel Pony Farm uses natural and organic growing methods to create a variety of products that it sells at the downtown Red Deer farmers market and also delivers directly to customers through its “food box” program.

“We have about 50 different types of vegetables, and within those types there are sometimes two or three varieties,” said Kozlowski.

“In the spring, it’s anything from green onions and radishes and arugula; and then in the summer you get you more typical Central Alberta crops, like carrots and beets and potatoes; and then later on into the fall we’ll have spinach and parsnips and cabbage and broccoli.”

Steel Pony Farm’s more exotic offerings includes bok choy and Jerusalem artichoke.

Szyszka said the finalists for 2012 were all strong. The others pitched a videography business, a financial services app and a company that focuses on community sports.

“It’s always really interesting to see things come through,” he said. “We get everything from people who want to build indoor dog parks to apps and websites and that type of thing.”

Kozlowski and Carlson, who live in Red Deer and are engaged to be married, are optimistic their RED Challenge prizes will help take Steel Pony Farm to the next level.

Szyszka said the money, which comes from an Alberta Innovations grant, can be used for capital expenditures related to the business.

“It’s 20,000 real dollars to spend.”

He added that the mentorship provided to the winners is also valuable.

“They’ll get paired up with someone who’s going to be a good fit for them.”

Szyszka said the 2012 RED Challenge finalists will describe their business ideas at the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce’s Ambassadors Luncheon on Feb. 6.

Additional information about Steel Pony Farm can be found online at www.steelpony.ca.

hrichards@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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