Jeff Sonner has been named champion of Ivy Tech Community College Fort Wayne’s New Venture Competition, which took place Thursday evening virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He won $20,000 in capital for his business, Just A Little Smoke BBQ.
Sonner has poured his 30 years of experience as a pitmaster into Just A Little Smoke BBQ, a startup food trailer. They offer Texas-Style BBQ using nothing more than fire and smoke to cook a full menu of traditional BBQ brisket, pork, chicken, ribs and house-made sausage. Just A Little Smoke BBQ currently operates throughout LaGrange, Ind. as well as vending at local fairs and gatherings as time permits.
With the $20,000 he wins from the New Venture Competition, Sonner will buy a retired school bus and materials to renovate the bus into a mobile food truck. In a cost-saving effort, he plans to renovate the bus himself. He hopes to have the conversion completed by fall and get on the road, selling BBQ five days a week with his wife and business partner, Jennifer.
He and two other finalists presented their business plans virtually through Zoom to community business people, and Sonner says he is grateful for the New Venture competition for the opportunity to grow his business.
“I’m excited to have won Ivy Tech’s New Venture Competition, and now the real work begins,” says Jeff Sonner. “I’ve been working on this competition for two years, and I’m grateful that I get to work with my wife while we expand our business. To all the donors who made this possible, thank you—dinner’s on me!”
Sonner presented his business plan to community professionals, who served as judges. The other finalists were Rolando Perez of “Hoosier Box Artisan BBQ and Catering” and Hayley Grover of “Sugar Coated Sweet Shoppe.”
Each finalist presented virtually for approximately 15 minutes. After the presentations, judges were given an additional 10 minutes for a question-and-answer session. The judges had been provided the contestants’ business plans prior to the event.
The New Venture Competition’s presenting sponsor was Dave and Mary Bear of JB Tool, Die & Engineering Inc. The event sponsor was ProFed Credit Union and the competition was in collaboration with Fort Wayne SCORE.