Kristen Ellis and Lisa Izaguirre of Enter Exit Escape.

by James Rada, Jr., photography by Bill Ryan


The Carroll County Chamber of Commerce is proud to present the 2107 Carroll Biz Challenge! The Biz Challenge is an annual tradition which offers local entrepreneurs the exciting opportunity to pitch their new business ideas to make great connections, get loads of publicity, and, this year, compete for a $7,500 cash prize plus additional prizes worth thousands more.The five Finalists will present their new business idea before four Judges and a live audience. The audience will vote to decide who gets the $1,000 People’s Choice award and the Judges will grant one Finalist the Grand Prize. Source:

Where:  Carroll Arts Center     When:  Thursday, August 10, 2017   TIME:  5 – 9 p.m.


Imagine being trapped in a locked museum, jewelry store showroom, or bank vault. You and the other people with you have to find a way out. To do so, you will have to work together, find clues, and solve puzzles before time runs out.

Enter Exit Escape is an escape room adventure in Mt. Airy that immerses groups of people in a scenario planned for a themed room in which the group is locked. They must work together and interact with the room’s elements to find a way out in a given amount of time.

Business partners Kristen Ellis and Lisa Yzaguirre had to put themselves through something similar to hone their business idea and compete in the 2016 Carroll Biz Challenge sponsored by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce. Their prize for winning the competition was $5,000 seed money to help out their new business.

Now preparing for its sixth competition, the Carroll Biz Challenge is Maryland’s first business startup contest.

“It’s a great way for us to reach out to entrepreneurs, and that is one of the reasons that chamber exists,” said Carroll County Chamber of Commerce President Mike McMullin.

Hélène Taylor

Brand new businesses or ones preparing to open can pitch their business ideas in front of a live audience and to other business professionals. Dozens of entrepreneurs apply each year, but only a handful of finalists are chosen to compete for the $5,000 prize. However, the competition itself forces the entrepreneurs to hone their business plans and sharpen their presentations. Along the way, they also make contacts within the Carroll County business community that can help them along the way.

“I think it’s a really unique and creative way to showcase businesses,” said Steve Moore, owner of Run Moore in Westminster and also the 2014 winner of the Carroll Biz Challenge.

He enjoys attending the final competition each year to see what new businesses are coming to the county. Previous winners include an energy services firm, lavender farm, running store, artisan gifts for men, and an escape room.

“We get people with the typical businesses you might expect, but we also get some innovative and unique businesses that want to open in Carroll County,” McMullin said.

McMullin points out that it’s not just the winners who benefit from the challenge. The competition process better prepares entrepreneurs for running a business. Hélène Taylor, owner of the French Twist Café at 732 Oklahoma Avenue in Sykesville, had an idea for a coffee shop that also sold crepes. She didn’t want the grand prize, but she did win the People’s Choice Award, which is chosen by the people in the audience during the final presentations.

“She’s become an unbelievable success story,” McMullin said. “She wasn’t even open when she competed, and now she’s a destination stop in Sykesville.”

Kristen Ellis and Lisa Izaguirre of Enter Exit Escape.


Kristen Ellis and Lisa Yzaguirre not only had to talk up why they thought an escape room would work in Carroll County, but they also had to explain the concept to the judges. They have been creating unique scenarios that are original and different from what some of the escape room chains use.

“We focus on making it a team activity that people have to work together to complete,” Ellis said.

To introduce county residents to the idea and get feedback, they spent the summer visiting local festivals with a mobile version of an escape room. The scenario was archaeology themed and set in a desert tent. It was scaled down so that it could be completed in 15 minutes, yet still show people how fun the escape room could be.

“The contest forced us to polish our presentation a little bit more and nail down those little details so that we were really confident about our assumptions,” Ellis said.

Enter Exit Escape has selected its site and is finalizing the details. The escape room is expected to open in March.

“It’s so exciting to be able to bring a unique and valuable option for entertainment and team building to Carroll County,” Ellis said.

Contact:; 1902 Back Acre Circle, Mount Airy, MD

Ryan Herbstomer of Autumn Summer.


Autumn Summer is a web business created by Ryan Herbstomer that offers handcrafted corporate gifts, gifts for men, and barware. Since men can be hard to shop for, the website provides unique gift ideas.

He wanted to use the contest winnings to purchase a laser for his business, but it was back ordered until the summer of 2015. He wound up using the money to get a warehouse that allowed him to expand his business.

“Up until then, I was working out of my shed,” Herbstomer said. “My business has doubled now.”

He did eventually get the laser, which allowed him to do custom logo work on the items he sells.

The Carroll Biz Challenge also allowed him to make local contacts. His largest order so far has come from a local Carroll County business seeking corporate gifts. It was a contact that he made through networking at the Carroll Biz Challenge.


Steve Moore of Run Moore.


Steve Moore was working in food sales and admits he had no business experience when he entered the Carroll Biz Challenge. What he did have was a passion for running that came through in his presentation to the judges.

“I live and breathe running,” Moore said. “It’s my passion.”

Run Moore at 13 Liberty Street in Westminster offers everything a runner might need. You can even get a free gait analysis. It was born from a need that Moore saw for the county to have a running specialty store.

“Besides the help that the prize money was, winning it validated what I’m doing here,” Moore said.

Now, after two years in business, Run Moore continues to grow.

“I still get people who come in two years later and remember me winning the contest,” he said.

Contact:; 13 Liberty Street, Westminster, MD; (443) 201-8203

Dawn Pritchard of Silver Linings Lavender Farm.


Having a lavender farm was Dawn Pritchard’s passion and, with the help of the Carroll Biz Challenge, she was able to make Silving Linings Lavender Farm a successful business. The farm not only grows lavender, but it offers hand-crafted artisan products made from natural ingredients. The products are sold online and a local farmer’s markets. Pritchard also plans to have a vegetable garden where food that can be donated to the food bank will be grown.

“Silver Linings is blossoming slowly into a charming, magical place where everyone can forget about their daily stresses and relax in a field of purple flowers,” Pritchard wrote on the farm’s Facebook page.