This year marked the first-ever "Shine A Light" contest, a jointly sponsored program by American Express (AMEX) and NBC Universal. The event celebrated inspirational small businesses across the nation, and allowed the public to vote for their favorites. Of the 4,000 plus businesses that were nominated, three finalists – Sacred Wind Communications, HappyBaby, and Beacon Paint and Hardware – were selected and the grand-prize winner was announced October 19.

Sacred Wind Communications, a telecommunications company based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was chosen as the grand-prize winner. The company will receive $50,000 in grant money, $50,000 in marketing support from AMEX, as well as a feature spot on MSNBC's small business show, "Your Business." Both HappyBaby and Beacon Paint and Hardware will receive $10,000 in grant money from AMEX for being finalists.

Sacred Wind co-founder and CEO John Badal said, "It's exciting, even humbling, to think that this little business in a little corner of the world gets such national recognition. It inspires us to do even more."

Shazi Visram, founder and CEO of the Brooklyn, New York-based organic baby food business HappyBaby, said that she was floored when she first learned that her entry had been accepted, and honored to have been selected as a finalist. "I was absolutely amazed and so excited, but on some level I felt that our business [was] deserving," Visram explained, highlighting the fact that in addition to local community service, HappyBaby also donates proceeds to Project Peanut Butter, a Malawi-based non-profit that feeds malnourished children.

Beacon Paint and Hardware, another New York City-based finalist, benefited from the tremendous opportunity for publicity, according to owner Bruce Stark. On how Beacon will begin spending their $10,000 grant, Stark said, "We're going to do a street painting for Saturday, painting up graffiti. We've got about 20 gallons of paint, we've ordered T-shirts, and we're going to get lunch for the kids, to start."

Nancy Smith, vice president of global media, content and community for AMEX, says the goal of the contest was to "engage the public to recognize and give thanks for fabulous small businesses in their own communities."

"We wanted to show them how nominating, voting, and spreading the word on a great small business can make a difference," adds Smith.