Entrepreneur Of The Year Announced For 2021

By Cece Nunn, posted Aug 6, 2021
A growing company that has taken the low country boil to a new level was named Entrepreneur of the Year on Friday during the 2021 Coastal Entrepreneur Awards.

Topsail Steamer, founded in 2017 by Danielle Mahon, has grown to six locations – one in Wrightsville Beach, one on Topsail Island, three in New Jersey and one in Delaware – with a seventh that will open on Anna Maria Island, Florida. 

And there’s more to come, Mahon said at the awards event at UNCW on Friday morning.

Topsail Steamer offers ready-to-cook low country boils in pots. The company's low country boils consist of fresh, local seafood, meat (often andouille sausage), vegetables (often potatoes, corn and onions) and seasonings. Customers order online or by phone and arrange a time to pick up their order. 

Mahon said the company aims to open two to three locations a year for the foreseeable future.

The idea for the company came to Mahon on a trip with her mom and sister, eventually culminating in her leaving a corporate job to start the business.

“When I came up with this concept, everything just fell into place,” Mahon said.

In accepting her award Friday, she said, “If I could give any advice to anybody who's out there, when you're building a business or you have an idea, one of the best things you can do is just get out there, get out there as much as you can, make as many connections as you can. 

“You just never know when you're going to have the right conversation or be exposed to the right piece of information that’s going to help you move forward and advance you on your journey.”

The Coastal Entrepreneur Awards, a joint program between the Greater Wilmington Business Journal and the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, was held Friday morning at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Burney Center.

As part of the awards program, numerous business and support groups and local chambers recognized high-potential companies in the region. Some previous winners have gone on to build larger enterprises.

The competition involves two rounds of judging in which the applicants are judged on two criteria: Is the organization entrepreneurial? Of those that are entrepreneurial, which organization is most likely to be financially successful? For nonprofits, the standard is which is likely to have the most impact. 

First, all the applications are evaluated by representatives of area business groups and the competition’s sponsors to determine the category winners. During the second round of evaluations with more detailed information, the judges select the Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year. 

In addition to Topsail Steamer, which won for the Retail & Hospitality category before being named Entrepreneur of the Year, the 2021 Coastal Entrepreneur Award winners are:
  • Biotechnology: SeaTox Research Inc., a company that focuses on drug discovery and the development of natural products into new bio-actives, and developing faster, easier-to-use testing for toxins that can contaminate commercial seafood;
  • Emerging Company: SmartFox Technologies, which partnered with Salesforce, the leading customer relationship management (CRM) software provider in the world, to create SmartFox Prime, a Business Forecast Management System;
  • Film: Blue Roll LLC, which creates visual, audio and text content for social media and does social media consulting for organizations. Conway was hired as an employee with Washington, D.C.-based ProInspire, a nonprofit organization, focusing on racial equity and leadership development;
  • Health Care: OpiAID, a life science company building a digital platform that takes data from wearables and electronic medical records to provide personalized plans and improve the outcomes for those in treatment for addiction;
  • Internet-Related Business: Hybrid Athlete Foundation, which has developed a platform that allows athletes to train on their schedule and gives a gym owner security and flexibility;
  • Manufacturing & Distribution: SOS Life Sciences Corp., a company focused on diabetes treatment solutions that has developed Glucose SOS products, including one for people and one for pets;
  • Minority-Owned Business: MeMa’s Chick’n & Ribs, opened by the McDuffie family in Burgaw in 2017, serves classic Southern cuisine and smoked meats prepared from family recipes and is on the road to growth with plans for a 12,000-square-foot facility;
  • Nonprofit: Pender County Christian Services, an organization that serves the people of Pender County with food, clothing, disaster relief and other needs;
  • Professional Services: Genesis Block, which provides business development services that support small business owners, entrepreneurs and early-stage startups; and
  • Technology: Vantaca, a company launched in 2017 whose platform is now used by organizations across the country, including management companies and HOAs representing 2 million individual homes.
The event also recognized the 2021 Coastal Entrepreneur Awards Chamber of Commerce Winners, who are:
  • Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce: Atlantic Telephone Membership Corp. 
  • Burgaw Chamber: Brown Dog Coffee
  • Greater Topsail Chamber: Fractured Prune
  • North Brunswick Chamber: Waste Partners LLC
  • Southport/Oak Island Chamber: Island Spas and Pools
  • Wilmington Chamber: Cape Fear Solar Systems
The event also provided an opportunity to recognize Diane Durance, outgoing director of the CIE, whose last day is Aug. 13. Durance received a special award and was also lauded in remarks during the awards by UNCW Chancellor Jose Sartarelli.

Of entrepreneurs in general, Sartarelli said, “I will tell you it is a very tough job to do. It takes a lot of vision, work, dedication.”
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