The American Small Business Championship is back! The national competition, which is hosted by SCORE and made possible with a grant from Sam’s Club, celebrates small business owners and helps them get the tools they need for success. For the first time in the competition’s history, three small businesses took the top honors as grand champions, winning $25,000 each to help grow their businesses. Today we hear from Gina Grillo, founder of Grillo Essentials, who found a renewed purpose for her business after contracting Lyme disease.

I wouldn’t change anything about my business journey. Even contracting Lyme disease.

Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, and it changed my life. It took me a year and a half to finally get a handle on the disease. I was a small business owner and mother of two. I already had a lot on my plate, but this added a new host of challenges.

I live right in the heart of tick country, and after my diagnosis, I could never find a repellent that satisfied my requirements. This sparked my desire to develop a repellent that not only worked well, but smelled so good you would want to wear it and would be small enough to fit in a pocket for life’s on-the-go adventures.

I had a renewed purpose for my small business, Grillo Essentials. My mission became to educate about Lyme disease, prevent it and produce the most effective insect repellent on the market.

After two years of research and field testing, where I was out in the woods with deer and ticks, I started to refine which natural oils were most effective in repelling them. I produced a roll-on tube that is highly concentrated with a blend of eight essential oils, and I market tested the product for an additional two years to ensure that my repellant would address the needs of adventurers across the country. I was overwhelmed by the support and praise from people who tried my repellent. Once I realized the success it could have, I decided to devote my company to creating this natural, preventative product.

It wasn’t until the fall of 2016 that I decided to take a six-week business course at the local college, where I was introduced to SCORE members. SCORE provides mentorship to entrepreneurs to help their small business succeed. My mentors have since been with me throughout my small business journey, helping me with next phase planning, social media strategies and website design.

Through my involvement with the ASBC, I had the opportunity to attend trainings in Dallas. I was shocked when I learned that I was one of 102 small business owners in the nation invited to these special trainings and received a $1,000 Sam’s Club gift card. These trainings not only informed me how to be a better business leader, but elevated me to a higher level of business where my goals became successes.

I’m honored Grillo Essentials has been selected as one of three winners to receive a special grant of $25,000. I plan to use this to help develop several new repellent products.

Starting my own business has been one of the most rewarding experiences yet. If you are in the process of establishing your own small business, the first step for success is to define your needs and wants in the business you’re creating, and then speak to a SCORE mentor for expert guidance. I have been able to grow my business and sell my products in retail stores across 5 states and online with help from SCORE, Sam’s Club and the ASBC. Next up, I hope to bring Grillo Essentials to all states nationwide in my mission to battle insects from every angle.

Follow along as we hear from the other ASBC grand champions. Coming next: A philanthropic small business owner who created a unique way to help nonprofits raise money through car donations.