First-place winner Khamani Harrison, of The Key Bookstore.

Building a business while making a social impact is the goal for the 14 Connecticut-based start-ups who pitched their plans to a virtual audience during reSET’s Venture Showcase Thursday evening.

Four start-ups walked away with grants to help put those plans into action. The exact amount of the grants was to be determined, as reSET was accepting donations through Friday. 

Those who attended the free community event heard pitches from each of the companies and were able to ask questions of the businesses. They then voted for the top three winners. 

The showcase follows a three-month Impact Accelerator program, during which the businesses received feedback and mentorship by reSET and an advisory board created to work with the participants.

Some of the businesses address issues such as climate change, while others focus on bringing awareness to health and wellness. Many of those representing the businesses said their plans would help support local businesses, keep dollars local and create job opportunities. 

The first-place winner was The Key Bookstore, an interactive online bookstore with a storefront in Hartford. The mission of the bookstore, which was established in 2018, is to engage the community by bringing books directly to them through in-person events.   

Khamani Harrison, CEO of The Key Bookstore, said that on-the-ground approach helps her store meet the needs of the community in a way that the big-name book stores “are deaf to.” Harrison said the bookstore is curated on the pillars of Afrocentricity, spirituality, environmentalism and entrepreneurship.

Dawn Leaks, moderator and alumna of the Impact Accelerator program. Leaks is the founder and former CEO of The Lioness Group, a global mass media company.

The second-place winner was Pickco Technology, a service that will work with small restaurants to bring food orders to food lockers at various locations in New Haven. Michael Guan, one of the founders of the company, said this service will provide restaurants a cheaper option than having to deal with the delivery fees of other providers while giving consumers an affordable and nutritious product. 

Third-place was a tie between Hartford-based Samad Gardens Initiative, whose mission is to train urban residents who want to learn to grow their own produce, and City Square Farms, a business platform of franchisable indoor farms invested and created by the community, for the community.

The Samad Gardens Initiative said it will benefit farmers who can grow year-round instead of only during the warmer months. Azeem and Sarah Kareem, the co-founders, said those who live in urban centers usually don’t know where to begin.

Azeem Kareem said it was a whole different experience to eat a real tomato for the first time, citing that there is a link between mental health and the digestive system. Sarah Kareem added, “It’s about being able to produce something for yourself.”  

Sarah Bodley, executive director of reSET, said nearly 200 people signed up for the Virtual Showcase.

“reSET exists to change the way business gets done,” Bodley said. 

Ali Lazowski, founder and CEO of Bare Life – an allergen-friendly food startup, said winning a grant after the 2018 Accelerator program was a game-changer for her as she benefited from the feedback and networking as well as the grant.

“In over two years, we landed on shelves in 58 locations,” Lazowski said. 

Nate Dudek, chairman of the Board of Directors at reSET, says the participants in the Venture Showcase are focused on changing the world.

Each year of the showcase, Dudek said he leaves “being so energized and so encouraged by the incredible work that’s happening.” 

Bodley said the 14 groups join the 129 businesses that have completed the program since 2013.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been corrected to reflect a tie for third place.