Each year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosts the Dream Big Awards to honor the achievements of small businesses across the country. These awards highlight small business contributions to American economic growth and perseverance in the face of a challenging environment.

“This year, small businesses have continued facing every obstacle head-on, taking risks, working hard, and dreaming big in the face of ongoing challenges and uncertainty,” Tom Sullivan, U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president of small business policy, said in a press release. ”Small businesses are a critical and vibrant sector of the U.S. economy, and the U.S. Chamber is proud to celebrate the very best in American small business through our Dream Big Awards.”

“We've seen ingenuity, grit and resilience from entrepreneurs in every state and across every sector,” Michelle Russo, chief communications officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said during the Dream Big Awards ceremony on October 21, 2021. “We've heard stories of survival and success from restaurants building out carry-out businesses, to retailers strengthening their e-commerce operations, to brand-new businesses offering new ways for people to connect, live and work in a changed world. Through it, all businesses are facing complex challenges, finding solutions and shaping the future in the process.”

To be eligible for the Dream Big Awards, a small business must be for-profit, operating for at least one year primarily within the U.S., and have less than 250 employees or have gross revenues of less than $20 million for both of the previous two years.

A total of nine awards were given for the 2021 Dream Big program. Eight winners were chosen from the 1,000-plus applicants for individual business category awards, and one business won the prestigious Small Business of the Year award, which comes with a grand prize of $25,000.

Small Business of the Year: The Urban Grape

The Urban Grape in Boston, Massachusetts, was announced as the 2021 Small Business of the Year at CO—’s Big Week for Small Business event.

This establishment is more than a wine store, said TJ and Hadley Douglas, the couple who founded the business in 2010. It is a place where people feel welcome and explore their palates, all while building community, belonging and equity in the wine industry.

To that end, the Douglases created The Urban Grape Wine Studies Award, specifically for students of color, which gives them networking opportunities, practical working experience and education without any student debt afterwards.

“It's very important to us to be a part of our community and to really welcome everyone,” said TJ Douglas, The Urban Grape’s CEO.

“When you invite more people to your table, not only does it feel good to you as a human being, but it actually has great benefit to your business's bottom line as well,” added Hadley Douglas, who serves as chief marketing officer.

When The Urban Grape was announced as the 2021 Small Business of the Year, the Douglases expressed that it felt like “extra validation” for everything they’ve done and overcome as a business and as partners.

“It's been such a long couple of years, but I'm so proud of us,” said Hadley Douglas. “I'm so proud of everything we've done. And this just ... means the world to us.”

When you invite more people to your table, not only does it feel good to you as a human being, but it actually has great benefit to your business's bottom line as well.

Hadley Douglas, co-founder and chief marketing officer, The Urban Grape

2021 Dream Big Award Winners

In addition to Small Business of the Year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce named the following businesses as this year’s eight Dream Big Award winners.

Community Support and Leadership: Medium Rare

Restaurant Medium Rare was founded in Cleveland Park, Washington D.C., in March 2011 and has since expanded to locations in Arlington, Virginia, and Bethesda, Maryland. During the pandemic, Medium Rare stepped in to fill a need, when co-owner Mark Bucher realized that local community residents were vulnerable to food insecurity and started delivering fresh meals to their doorsteps.

Read about this award and the finalists.

Woman-Owned: Made in Corpus Christi

Made in Corpus Christi was founded in 2013 to showcase the work of creatives in the Corpus Christi community. This shop offers the opportunity for visitors and locals to buy gifts for their family and friends, all the while supporting the community. Owner Nikki Riojas created Made in Corpus Christi to celebrate all of the great things about this community.

Read about this award and the finalists.

Veteran-Owned: Building Momentum

Alexandria, Virginia-based Building Momentum develops problem-solving programming for the military, the boardroom and school-aged children. The company offers a multitude of services, including corporate training and events, military training, research and development and small business support. The founders of Building Momentum were inspired by their experiences in war-torn countries as a part of the U.S. military.

Read about this award and the finalists.

Minority-Owned: TOOTRiS

TOOTRiS connects working parents with high-quality child care providers by providing parents with free, online resources to search, vet and enroll their children in safe, nurturing and affordable child care programs. Given the present struggles for employees in finding such programs, TOOTRiS helps employees reach the necessary productivity levels to recover from the pandemic.

Read about this award and the finalists.

LGBTQ-Owned: Hideaway Café

Hideaway Café has repeatedly been named as Winchester, Virginia’s best coffeehouse. Hideaway was founded to offer a safe space for everyone, with great conversation, coffee and food. Victoria Kidd built this business with her fiancé and daughter in 2015 as a place where customers and employees can celebrate each other’s differences.

Read about this award and the finalists.

Green/Sustainable: Recyclops

Recyclops offers affordable recycling and sustainability solutions that are accessible to everyone. Founder and CEO Ryan Smith created this company when he discovered that millions of U.S. households lacked at-home recycling options. Even after the collapse of the recycling economy in 2019, Recyclops strives to bring recycling services to communities.

Read about this award and the finalists.

Emerging Business: Imperium Data Networks

Imperium Data Networks is an information technology (IT) retailer that specializes in telecommunications, data networking and enterprise wireless solutions. Founded in 2018, Imperium Data Networks’ goal is to create long-term change in the IT industry by directly providing customers with technology products, managed services and human capital solutions.

Read about this award and the finalists.

Young Entrepreneur: Embark Trucks

Embark Trucks, based in San Francisco, is the longest-running self-driving truck program in the U.S. Co-founded by Alex Rodrigues and Brandon Moak, this company has achieved a number of firsts, including being the first company to complete a coast-to-coast drive in an automated truck. Embark’s technology helps solve the problem of the truck driver shortage and will complement the current trucking workforce.

Read about this award and the finalists.

Check out all of our Big Week for Small Business coverage here.

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Published October 21, 2021