Over 50 motorcycle riders pulled up to the Green Mountain Harley Davidson in Essex Jct. on Monday morning, but they weren’t there for a tuneup or a new bike. Instead, they were visiting their first stop of the fourth annual Road Pitch project organized by Cairn Cross with FreshTracks Capital.
For four days, motorcycle riders will drive to eight towns in Vermont and listen to business pitches by local entrepreneurs. The riders all have investing and business startup experience and provide advice, and sometimes money, to business owners. Riders rate each pitch, provide feedback and declare a “rider’s choice” winner to compete in the finals in October in Burlington.
“It’s a great thing to be able to support our businesses and our upstarts here,” said Keith Koehler, business development manager for Manufacturing Solutions Inc, who is also a motorcycle rider in this year’s event. “We’re all in business too, so it’s a mutually symbiotic relationship where we’re helping each other.”
The first pitch of the morning came from Richard Vaughn with his coffee shop called Perky Planet. Opening up on the corner of King and St. Paul streets later this year, Perky Planet will hire people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“For folks with disabilities, a job is more than just a paycheck,” Vaughn said. “A job is dignity, respect and a sense of purpose.”
He admitted other businesses like his are opening around the country, but most of them are started by parents of children with disabilities. Perky Planet will focus on hiring as many individuals with disabilities as possible and invest in technology to “make the playing field more level” and extend their impact, Vaughn said.
Up next was Jamie Northrup, who pitched his app called pairedIQ which helps students learning English as a second language with the trickier, academic language used in classrooms.
“Students who are learning English are struggling with academic English, so it’s not, ‘How much does something cost’ or ‘Where is the bathroom’ but ‘What’s a vector’ and ‘How do I use a comma correctly?’” Northrup said.
He added student-to-teacher ratios are increasing all over the country, and his app and desktop technology will help facilitate independent learning for these students.
Kerri Tracy and her web platform called Cubby Spaces rounded out the first half of the event. The website assembles childcare providers nationwide into a cohesive, online system to make enrolling children easier and more streamlined for parents, as well as save childcare providers time and money by nixing a paper system.
“The average parent spends 45 hours finding a childcare solution,” Tracy said, adding that 90 percent of new parents are millenials who are both used to and expect technological solutions to problems.
Lex Osler, cofounder QOR360, went to the Road Pitch finals last year after winning the Champlain Mini Maker Faire pitch and came back this year to hopefully succeed again. QOR360 designs ergonomic chairs for active sitting.
“We now know that prolonged sitting increased the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even cancer,” Osler said. “The solution is movement.”
The chair’s top moves in all directions, forcing users to use muscles while they sit and promote “active sitting.”
The final pitch of the morning was by Chelsea Camarata with her women’s mountain biking apparel business called Kaden Apparel.
“The stuff that’s out there is really just a ‘shrink and pink’ version of men’s apparel,” Camarata said, garnering applause from a female audience member. “Women mountain bikers, they don’t want Spandex. They also don’t want Spandex that’s covered in pink hibiscus flowers.”
Although none of the entrepreneurs on Monday were from Essex Jct., Greg Morgan, chairman of the Essex Economic Development Commission, was still excited for the event to kick off in town.
“[We’re trying to] put Essex on the innovation and startup map because, I mean, Burlington does such a great job, but it’s all you hear,” Morgan said. “In the long run, if somebody decides to locate here, that would be great.”
Morgan also lauded the work of local coworking spaces like Excelerate Essex and Essex Hub for Women in Business for bringing growth of creativity to the community.
Dylan Giambatista, Essex Jct. state representative, echoed those sentiments, saying event organizers Chris Kesler and Emily Piper are present in the community.
“They’re coming up with really creative ideas to allow people to grow ideas,” he said. “That’s where we’re going to see economic opportunities for the community as we move forward. It’s really exciting.”
In the end, QOR360 was crowned the morning’s winner. Osler will give his pitch once again at the finals in October in hopes of securing investments to help his business grow.
While there could only be one official winner, Steve Swanson, winner of last year’s Essex Road Pitch with his unusual cricket farm business, had advice for those who didn’t make it to the finals.
“Keep losing, and you might win,” he said.