The third annual Fresh Tracks Road Pitch is calling all entrepreneurs.
The motorcycle “gang” of business gurus — investors, financial advisers, academics and business owners — will once again be touring the state on their Harleys and BMWs the first week in August, offering advice, which for some savvy entrepreneurs could lead to funding for their venture.
The first stop on the trip is Rutland on Aug. 1, where as many as 30 riders will converge on the Rutland Free Library to hear entrepreneurs make a pitch for their product or service.
Lyle Jepsen, who heads the Rutland Economic Development Corp., said they’ve selected three local entrepreneurs who will pitch their idea at the Aug. 1 event from 4 to 6 p.m.
One presenter is in the food industry, while the other two are health-physical fitness enterprises, Jepsen said. He said the event is not only a boost for business but for the Rutland region.
“REDC is involved because we want to continue to support changing the narrative about our region,” Jepsen said. “Our region is a very entrepreneurial place. What we need is a process to support those entrepreneurs.”
He said sometimes all it takes to make that happen is publicizing what’s already here, like the Small Business Development Center, or some of the opportunities REDC can provide.
Brian DeClue, area business adviser with the Vermont Small Business Development Center, said there has been a definite uptick in people interested in starting their own business, as well as people looking for advise who own an existing business.
With the help of the VtSBDC, 69 new businesses were started in the state last year, creating 193 jobs. Over the last five years, 1,028 new businesses were started. Over that same period 3,383 jobs were created and saved, according to the VtSBDC.
Cairn Cross, co-founder of Fresh Tracks Capital, said he expects 45 to 50 riders to participate across the five-day event.
For entrepreneurs, it’s a way for them to get connected outside their local or regional area, Cross said.
“The entrepreneurs seem to really like the chance to pitch their idea to a fresh audience and to potentially meet and get connected to people that they otherwise would have had trouble reaching,” he said.
For local organizers, like REDC, Cross said it draws attention to their town, and the economic development activities and resources available.
The event also benefits the Road Pitch participants, as they tour the state and get to hear new ideas from fledgling businesses. The public too is invited to each “pitch” stop along the way.
“A lot of members of the public don’t realize that there are these interesting startup companies and entrepreneurs in their community,” he said.
Last year’s Road Pitch winner was Julie Lineberger of LineSync Architecture in Wilmington.
Lineberger and her team came up with an idea to serve those with disabilities. It’s called Wheel Pad L3C, a mobile, eco-friendly, handicap-accessible, 200-square-foot room that easily attaches to the ground floor of an existing home.
As the Road Pitch winner, she received valuable advice in starting a manufacturing business, one that is entirely different from the existing design business.
“They’ve continually offered advice and suggestions of who I should contact regarding patents, marketing and intellectual property and all that stuff,” she said. “And that support really created a shortcut for me to find and network with people to get this from an idea to actually launch the business.”
Lineberger went on to win the LaunchVt $15,000 Innovation Prize. That seed money is being used to build a prototype with the help of Norwich University students. The prototype is expected to be completed in August. Lineberger is aiming to begin commercial production of Wheel Pad in three years.
If Cross has one bit of advice about what makes for a successful pitch, it’s that it needs to be told like a compelling story.
He said a successful pitch should start with a problem, how the particular product or service will solve the problem, the customer it’s aimed at, and “why are you the right person” to make this happen.
“I think weaving that into telling a story is very powerful,” he said. “So there’s a bit of theater in all of that if you tee it up right.”
Cross said pitches that are more difficult to grasp are ones where the entrepreneur begins with a description of the product without explaining what problem it’s attempting to address.
The tour will also make stops in Essex Junction, Bennington, Brattleboro, Barre, Randolph, St. Johnsbury, Lowell, Hyde Park and North Hero.
At each of the 10 locations the Road Pitch riders will award $500 and a special-edition Vermont Biker Bear,” courtesy of Vermont Teddy Bear.
Local winners will be invited to a statewide “Pitch-Off” on Oct. 18 at Champlain College. The Riders Choice winners will compete for a grand prize of $4,000 and a year of mentoring from the Road Pitch Riders.
Road Pitch is a spin-off of the annual Peak Pitch, held each winter at Sugarbush Resort. The entrepreneur makes their pitch to a business expert while they ride on a chairlift together.
Supporting this year’s Road Pitch are the Vermont Department of Economic Development; Champlain College; Burlington Bytes; Key Bank; Gallagher, Flynn & Company; Vermont Small Business Development Center; Dinse, Knapp & McAndrew; Vermont Business Magazine; Moulton Law Group; DesignBook; Milk Money; Merritt & Merritt; North Country Angels; Champlain Mini Maker Faire; and LaunchVT.
Those with an interest in pitching their idea or business can visit www.roadpitch.com and contact a local organizer to apply for a pitch slot.