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challenge contest semi-finalist

Lewis Rose owns BakerStone together with Tim Case – the oven’s inventor – and two investors.Kevin Van Paassen

BakerStone International is one of the five semi-finalists in The Globe and Mail's Small Business Challenge Contest. (Check out the other four here.) The 2015 contest drew more than 3,300 entries, and a panel of judges selected the semi-finalists. The winner of the $100,000 business grant – and a suite of secondary prizes – will be announced in September.

It's something you'll find on most foodies' wish lists: a pizza oven that can stand proudly beside their barbecue grill. But with a price tag that can run anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 or higher, this backyard luxury has been out of reach for a lot of gourmet pizza lovers.

That changed about a year-and-a-half ago, when Toronto-based BakerStone International launched its pizza oven box – a portable contraption, retailing for about $130, that heats up to as high as 400 degrees C when set on top of a barbecue grill. Translation for foodies: Your pizza is ready in two to four minutes, depending on the heat of your barbecue.

"There are no wires, no plugs and no fuel required," says Lewis Rose, who owns BakerStone together with Tim Case – the oven's inventor – and two investors. "With the BakerStone pizza oven box, you get the same gourmet quality pizza that you would get from a wood-fired oven, but at a cost that makes it accessible for everyone."

Mr. Case, a food aficionado and science buff, began developing designs for a pizza oven box after his wife vetoed his idea of installing a wood-fired oven in their rather small backyard. Product development took about a year and was funded partly by a Kickstarter campaign that raised about $27,000 in less than a month.

The final, patent-pending design combines a stone baking chamber with an enamelled steel housing that creates an airflow that intensifies heat within the baking chamber. This intense heat bakes pizzas with crisp crusts while keeping the toppings moist and tasty, Mr. Rose says.

"By the time you've served your first pizza, the next one is right behind ready in just a couple of minutes," he says. "It's a fantastic experience, and it's a great alternative to the usual barbecue items like burgers and hot dogs."

The BakerStone pizza oven box, which is manufactured in China, is sold at retailers in Canada and the United States, including Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowe's, Costco and Sam's Club. It's also available in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and a few countries in Latin America.

Retailers and industry associations have heaped awards on the BakerStone pizza oven box. At this year's National Hardware Show in Las Vegas, the oven box picked up the Retailer's Choice Award. Hearth & Home, a magazine for the hearth, barbecue and patio industries, called it the best barbecue accessory of 2014.

Shoppers snapped up more than 50,000 units last year – a number BakerStone will likely double this year, says Mr. Rose, whose company has 10 employees in Canada and the United States. He and his business partners want to build greater awareness of the BakerStone brand and its products, but that requires capital.

Winning the Challenge contest would give the company money to put into infomercials. Mr. Rose estimates infomercial costs at about $60,000 for video production and $40,000 to buy television airtime.

He and Mr. Case have seen what a few seconds on TV can do for product sales. In September of 2013, the pizza oven box was featured in a home and garden TV show in Australia.

"The person on TV prepared pizza in the kitchen and then said, 'Now I will take this outside and bake it for you,'" says Mr. Rose. "The pizza oven box was shown for maybe 20 seconds; sales went up tenfold that weekend."

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