American Family Insurance is providing $10,000 in seed money and free expert advice on starting a business to each of three contest winners in the latest iteration of the company's long-running American Dream campaign.
Selected in late February, the winners — Jason Schadewalt of Freeport, Ill., Jorge Rodriguez of Clinton, Iowa, and Robin Coalson of Colorado Springs, Colo. — were flown to Madison this week for an all-expenses-paid, four-day visit that the company is calling its Dream Camp. They were to work one-on-one and in a group with mentors specially hired by the Madison-based insurer to help them achieve their particular business dreams.
As part of their prize, the three also were to be guests of honor Thursday night at an invite-only event in Madison hosted by supermodel-turned-global businesswoman Kathy Ireland, whose global design and marketing firm, kiWW, grossed more than $2 billion in merchandise sales in 2012, according to Forbes.
Ireland was to introduce the business mentors who will work with the winners and share advice with the three herself at the company's DreamBank on the Capitol Square, American Family spokeswoman Sandra Spann said Thursday.
"Mentors are obviously very important for people trying to start businesses, and turning your passion into a career is something that we want to support for individuals," Spann said. "This is a way that we can encourage people to really believe in their dreams and how we can help facilitate those dreams."
Schadewalt's dream is to expand his part-time cake-making business into a full-time career. He first turned to baking as an outlet for his frustration over not being able to help his terminally ill father, Spann said, and now he hopes to make his living from it.
Rodriguez wants to open a boxing gym to offer programs for low-income children and to help his daughter achieve her goal of boxing in the Olympics, Spann said, and Coalson hopes to turn the art form she excels in — known as architectural carving — into a business that thrives.
Spann said the expert advice the winners will receive this week could be at least as valuable as the $10,000 they're getting.
"I think any business person can tell you that mentoring is an important aspect to growing their business," Spann said.
Participants did not have to be American Family policyholders to be in the contest, which was promoted through paid advertising and social media pitches. Contestants made YouTube videos explaining their business dreams and shared them online, with the 100 most popular videos entered into a raffle to select the three winners.