Jessica Grelle stands near a trade show stand stacked with nutritional tomes and a couple of jars of her signature sauce in her Barrington home office. | Cynthia Wolf/For Sun-Times Media
Get in the game
To learn more about Mama Jess: http://mamajess.com/about/our-story/
To learn more about the Intuit Small Business Big Game contest: smallbusinessbiggame.com
While watching a pre-season football game with her husband in September, Barrington “mompreneur” Jessica Grelle spied a TV ad that motivated her to get into the Intuit Small Business Big Game contest.
“I said, ‘Wow, this is really a neat opportunity,’” she said. “I didn’t want to pass it up after I saw it on TV.”
Grelle certainly is glad she did not pass it up because she was notified by Intuit on Oct. 28 that Mama Jess, her pasta and enchilada sauce business, had made the Top 20.
It’s a huge step closer to the grand prize of a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl in February.
She also said it’s a tremendous honor to have been selected and voted into the Top 20 from among thousands of small business entries.
Software company Intuit, maker of QuickBooks, will pay for the Super Bowl spot as well as professional production for the winner’s ad.
Next up is the Nov. 11 announcement of which finalist will advance to the Final 4. Then the public once again can weigh in at www.smallbusinessbiggame.com.
The next round of voting will open Nov. 11 and close Dec. 1, Grelle said. The winner will be the top vote-getter.
“I was very excited and waving my hands,” Grelle said as she recalled the Monday night phone call notifying her that she moved on in the competition. “I was making dinner, and waving to my kids that something very exciting was happening.”
Grelle’s two sons, 10-year-old Alex and 7-year-old Walker, have factored prominently in the development of her Mama Jess product line. It was Alex’s refusal to eat carrots when he was younger that fueled the trained food scientist to experiment with putting vegetable purees in pasta sauces.
Grelle launched her line of organic pasta sauces in 2011, and business has grown ever since. On the shelves at Whole Foods and other markets, with the addition of 1,000 Kroger Co. stores this spring, Grelle’s garden good, bean good and bien good sauces sell for about $5.99 to $6.99 a jar.
Alex also played a role in the promotional video Grelle developed as part of Intuit’s Round 2 requirements. His voice narrates the video relating the tale of how Mama Jess started. The video also features chalk drawings that Alex inspired and Chicago artist David Bozic rendered.
Grelle said she cannot wait to learn whether Mama Jess will advance to the final round. For a small business owner such as herself to have a shot at a Super Bowl ad is nearly incomprehensible, she said.
“I can’t imagine how much that would cost during the Super Bowl,” she said. “And (Intuit pays) for everything. There’s no cost. You also get to go to the Super Bowl game. They pay for airfare and hotel.”
Win or lose, the 37-year-old considers herself fortunate to have advanced this far.
“We’re really busy right now,” she said of Mama Jess. “This has brought tons of press and lots of inquiries on our website — people asking, ‘Where can we get your products?’ It’s brought a lot of good exposure, which we’re really grateful for.”
Still, it’s hard for Grelle not to dream about where she will be on Feb. 2, 2014. She’s hoping it’s the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., among the crowd enjoying Super Bowl XLVIII, while tens of millions of viewers watch a commercial featuring her healthy, organic sauces.