An independent marketing and SEO firm, a film production business and a tech startup aiming to deter bias in the hiring process won the City of Fort Worth’s Business Plan Competition on May 5.

The competition pits 20 businesses – all between two and five years old and making under $500,000 – against each other as they develop a business plan and receive coaching over the course of several months.

It culminates into one night where eight finalists pitch their ideas to a panel of judges for cash prizes. The panel evaluates the contestants based on answers to questions and their pitch. 

Some pitches included giving judges their own Polaroid cameras or baskets of popcorn. Others involved ripping up a resume.

Lauren Kutschke, a SEO copywriter and founder of Salted Pages, received the first place prize of $10,000 and an invitation to talk with Mayor Mattie Parker on her podcast. 

Judges such as Ori Fernandez, Fort Worth’s assistant director of economic development, said Kutschke’s pitch stood out for its personality and marketability. 

Kutschke said she practiced her pitch on countless weekday nights and weekends.

“I’m shocked,” she said about winning. “I think I’m still in disbelief.”

Kutschke plans to follow the business plan she developed to grow her company, which offers website copywriting, blog writing and brand messaging in addition to search engine optimization services. 

Ten Four Films, a film, photography and website development firm, placed second and won $5,000.

Unbent, a tech startup that aims to eliminate bias in the hiring process by using artificial intelligence software and virtual reality, came in third place and earned the $3,000 prize.

Other finalists included: 

The business plan competition is part of the city’s larger plan of supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs. 

Firms up to 1-year-old accounted for 29,979 Fort Worth jobs in 2019, according to an annual report from Sparkyard, an organization that supports entrepreneurship in Fort Worth.

During a speech, Robert Sturns, Fort Worth’s economic development director, said the city gave $54.9 million in CARES Act money to support the business community during the pandemic. 

“​​That’s something that we’ve been trying to drive in our economic development efforts: That opportunity to pivot and be flexible and be reactive to the needs of the small business community,” Sturns said.

Stacy Marshall, president of Southeast Fort Worth, Inc. and one of several judges that evaluated the businesses on pitch night, said the event is a positive step for all of the small businesses involved.

“I think we have a great group of potential leaders that’s going to shape the city,” Marshall said.

Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.

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Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....