Shalonda and Michael Burnside started their business with a kernel of passion: inspiring the next generation of aspiring business owners. That’s why they founded Lil Pop Gourmet Popcorn. 

When they entered a room to develop a business plan and compete with 20 other businesses for $10,000, Shalonda said she felt nervous.

“It started off, honestly, with me walking into the room and feeling like, do I belong here?” she said. “Like, you know, is my business something that people will see as you know, viable and marketable?” 

On May 11, they got their answer. They won the City of Fort Worth’s Business Plan Competition

The competition pitted 20 businesses, 2 to 5 years old, against each other, in the development of business plans over the course of several months. The top eight finalists pitched to a panel of judges in Thursday’s competition. 

Now, with a $10,000 cash prize, the Burnsides are working on building up their website and want to partner with schools and nonprofits. 

Amy Rasor, Fort Worth regional director of the Better Business Bureau and a judge, said the competition was fierce. The well-organized plan and a passionate pitch went a long way for Lil Pop.

“You want to know that they know what they’re doing on paper,” Rasor said. “But really, you got to see that they have that grit and that passion that’s going to get them through being a business owner.”

Lil Pops’ logo is a girl with popcorn in her hair. It’s inspired by their daughters. Shalonda Burnside said the business started when she was struggling to reenter the workforce after having a child. 

“We decided to start a business because we didn’t want our daughters to kind of have to go through that if they decided to be stay-at-home moms,” she said. 

The Burnsides make their popcorn from their home and source ingredients locally. The Burnsides developed six flavors: turtle pop, cookies and cream, cinnamon churro, crunchy caramel, kettle corn and birthday cake. They partner with local nonprofits to cater popcorn.

Two other businesses won cash prizes at the competition.

Luxury stationery company Manifest Your Purpose won second place and $6,000, and third place went to van lifestyle manufacturer Knarly Vans, and $4,000. A home inspection business for seniors, Lifestyle Transitions, won the audience-voted “perfect pitch” prize. 

All of the finalists have access to a preapproved loan from Frost Bank, which is an event sponsor.

Robert Sturns, Fort Worth’s economic development director, said that’s a big deal. Access to capital is one of the biggest challenges of starting a business. Getting access to loans is one reason why the city started the CDFI Friendly program, which aims to increase access to loans in Fort Worth, Sturns said. 

“Especially with companies that are just starting out, I mean, you don’t have a track record,” Sturns said. “So to go to a bank, it’s sometimes hard to convince them … that this is not going to be a high-risk thing, that this is something that the bank should put their dollars into. So that’s always a problem.”

The business plan competition is one piece of the city’s efforts to support small businesses and entrepreneurs. City officials are also trying to revamp the Devoyd Jennings Business Assistance Center. There are also plans in the works to open another center dedicated to supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs in the Near Southside.

Firms up to a year old accounted for 25,000 Tarrant County jobs in 2020, according to an annual report from Sparkyard, an organization that supports entrepreneurship in Fort Worth.

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 BodineBusiness Reporter

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....