As this year’s PitchFork Challenge contenders prepare to vie for a cash prize at Radically Rural, last year’s winners reflect on what they gained, which they say was more than just money.
Since 2016, The Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship’s PitchFork program has provided quarterly opportunities for entrepreneurs to present their business ideas to investors. Last year, Hannah Grimes retooled the program and offered the PitchFork Challenge, a competition in which the winning business took home $10,000, and the best idea for a startup received a $1,000 cash prize.
The challenge involved a series of pitches between July and September to narrow the field of applicants to the finalists, who then presented live at the Radically Rural Summit in September.
At the inaugural PitchFork Challenge last year, Dan Profitt of Butcher Pete’s Mobile Meat took home the $10,000 prize; Brenna Morris, owner of Luna’s Herbal, won the people’s choice award in the idea track.
Hannah Grimes offered the challenge again this year. Eligibility requirements included being a resident of or having a business in a small town in the tri-state area.
The Business Journal took a look at how last year’s PitchFork champions used their winnings to accelerate their businesses.
LUNA’S HERBAL: SHARING A PASSION FOR NATURE
Morris says she’s always had an interest in the natural world and that staying connected to that world is fundamentally important because it’s how humans survive.
“So the kinder we treat the earth, the better off we are,” she says. “And so the whole idea was that, if I teach people about the plants and herbs and the properties they have, it’s going to grow reciprocity for our land community.”
Recognizing that most people are never taught about plant properties and herbal remedies at any point in a typical education system, Morris sought to host classes and share her passion for nature.
So far she’s taught more than a half-dozen courses, with venues that include the nonprofit Camp Glenbrook in Marlborough, Hannah Grimes, and the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock. Morris has also been hired by area businesses to teach classes during corporate outings and retreats.
Her work aims to help people become more self-sufficient, Morris says, even if it’s simply showing someone how to make sage tea at home to soothe a sore throat.
Morris says she was applying for a grant with Mountain Rose Herbs when she stumbled upon the PitchFork Challenge’s idea track last year. The detailed application process forced her to fine-tune her goals and her vision, she notes. It became the catalyst to transform her idea into something tangible.
After winning the competition, the Monadnock Conservancy sponsored her first class.
“So organizations heard about me that otherwise might not have known I existed, so it helped with the exposure a lot,” she says.
Plus, she adds, the fact that she earned the People’s Choice Award felt like evidence that the community wanted her services.
Morris says she used the $1,000 for supplies and the basics to start her business, such as a website and insurance.
She already has her eye on the next plan, though. In her classes, Morris began noticing a demand that she couldn’t meet.
“People learn how to make these herbal remedies and then they want more of them,” she explains, adding that she doesn’t have a setup to refill orders easily. “It’s helped me think about longer-term: Where do I really want this to go?”
Morris has a five-year plan to open a locally sourced apothecary in the region that would offer handmade teas, tinctures, soaps and “things that are really nourishing from the land around us.” While Morris is unsure if the plan will manifest itself as a storefront in Keene or a home-based business, she’s eager to have a venue where she could host her classes and continue her educational efforts.
BUTCHER PETE’S MOBILE MEAT: NEW EQUIPMENT
Offering mobile slaughtering services is a seasonal industry, according to Profitt, who says he typically does nearly a year’s worth of business between September and January. There’s a second wave in the spring that tapers off into the summer when he gets requests handle poultry from people selling at farmers markets.
Profitt left his job at Vermont Packinghouse in January to pursue Butcher Pete’s full time.
He used the prize money from the pitch competition to buy equipment such as a grinder, a poultry plucker and vacuum sealers.
Profitt has also been building a 6- by 8-foot refrigerated trailer that will serve as a “rolling butcher shop” behind his truck. Though he bought the trailer and component shortly after the PitchFork Challenge, a slight hiccup kept him from working on it until recently.
“It kind of got claimed by the elements last year,” he says.
While parked at his former home atop a mountain in Athens, Vermont — he’s since moved to Townshend — the trailer was buried in several feet of snow, which Profitt couldn’t retrieve until late May.
“When it got frozen under that glacier, we had to just wait patiently for it,” he says.
After business died down, he had time to get the trailer ready for the busy season in the fall.
The trailer will allow him to process everything on-site throughout the year, whereas before he could only do that when it was cool enough outside.
“In some cases, I’ll be able to do the entire job right on-site in front of the client. It’s literally a butcher shop,” he says.
Without the trailer, Profitt says that the job required lots of ice and large coolers. He had to get the animal carcasses on ice and to a leased brick-and-mortar cooler in Walpole within a couple of hours.
“But that’s extremely inefficient, and you’re working majorly against the clock,” he says. “And in the heat of the summer, it’s a really hard clock to be working against when you just have ice and a cooler.”
The trailer also has triple the weight capacity of his truck, opening Profitt up to larger jobs. And with new equipment, Butcher Pete’s can now handle poultry for most of the year.
From buying small equipment to outfitting the trailer, Profitt says the pitch competition helped elevate his business from a hobby or a side gig.
“The PitchFork Challenge was not just a temporary win for me,” he says. “It completely changed my business long term.” T
Sierra Hubbard is a staff writer with The Keene Sentinel.