When our entrepreneurs get better, our community gets better.
So says Scott Fitzgerald, executive director of the nonprofit Silicon Couloir, who is preparing for Pitch Day, an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to share their ideas with a panel of judges for prize money and coaching to get their companies off the ground.
“Most startups fail,” said Fitzgerald, whose organization nurtures entrepreneurship in the Tetons. “We’re looking for those with the best chance at success.”
The fifth annual Pitch Day is set for Aug. 10 at the Center for the Arts. Presentations will be made from 4 to 6 p.m., followed by a cocktail hour.
There’s CYA Skirts, a new category in the athleisure market pitched by Lisa Delaney; DC Racks, a modular roof rack system designed specifically for trucks, presented by Eric Green; Zenith, a men’s apparel company pitched by Bryan Heidmous; DMOS Collective, innovative outdoor tools like shovels to enable adventurers, pitched by Susan Pieper; a reality-based TV network that provides webcam content, presented by Bob Strobel; and Sego Ski Co., which makes skis, presented by Tim and Peter Wells.
After the eight-minute presentations the panel of six investors will judge the entrepreneurs.
“The judges are looking for companies that can get off the ground and become meaningful local companies, whether that be as job creators or making a difference in other ways,” Fitzgerald said.
Presentation skills, while important, aren’t always the most important thing.
“It’s really about the business idea,” Fitzgerald said. “Is it sound? Is the team in a position to strategically execute?”
There will be a Judges’ Choice winner, with a runner-up, and an Audience Choice, voted on by texts from guests at Pitch Day.
The judges’ winner will receive $5,000 and a packet of training programs from Hero Partner, a CEO club designed to accelerate the growth of companies. The runner-up will receive coaching from Bill Watkins of the Rusty Lion Academy, a leadership coaching and professional development program. The audience choice will win $2,500 and five hours of coaching with the Silicon Couloir board.
“I believe in creating your own tailwind,” Pieper said. “You don’t wait for opportunity, you create it. The momentum that comes from Pitch Day would mean a lot to us.”
Tim Wells, who founded Sego Ski Co. with his brother Peter almost two years ago, stressed the importance of appearing in front of a crowd.
“Pitch Day will help us elevate our presence,” Wells said. “It’s important to find the right investor, not just an investor.”
All six contestants received five weeks of intensive coaching sessions leading up to Pitch Day.
“I’ve learned how to explain our idea to potential interested parties quickly and succinctly,” Delaney of CYA Skirts said.
The coaching is essential.
“That’s the biggest value in the event,” Fitzgerald said. “They’ve had an incredible amount of energy and attention from local, very experienced investors — real founders and leaders.”
Last year’s winner was Dan Peterson, the entrepreneur behind Teqqa, a medical information technology startup that sells services to hospitals to improve their treatment of infectious diseases. He said the win opened his company to networking and other pitch event opportunities.
“It also gave us the courage to not take just any funding right away,” Peterson said.
“It’s amazing to have the resources, the interest and the focus that Silicon Couloir brings,” he said. “There are so many bright people with money in the valley, and this is the way it all comes together.”
Many of this year’s contestants reiterated the importance of community in the entrepreneurial process.
“When I moved to Jackson I was at a point where I was looking to start a business or advise other businesses,” Pieper said. “I could tell instantly that Silicon Couloir is the place that brings all the inspiration together. They’ve created a community around entrepreneurship.”
Leading up to Pitch Day, don’t be surprised if you see Delaney driving around town making emphatic gestures in her car.
“I’ve been practicing while driving,” she said. “No one can hear me, so it looks like I’m just talking to myself.”