Pitchfork Challenge

In rural areas, business start-up rates are negatively impacted due to a lack of funding. In the fall of 2016 the Hannah Grimes Center launched a distinctly rural “pitch event” as a response.

The last four years have provided experience and lessons about funding local startups, and the event has evolved to be a promising example of how community can rally to support a thriving rural economy.

This year’s Radically Rural Pitchfork Challenge will be hosted on the online platform Hopin Sept. 24 at 11 a.m. as part of the Entrepreneurship Track. The track is slated to open with a live pitch event, followed by a discussion with organizers. Attendees will be given an operating manual on how to take this concept into their own communities.

David Deziel, founder and principal of David George Communications, will be heading up the task of capturing and documenting Pitchfork. His operating manual will walk people through the event process and highlight the importance of bringing investors and judges together with an emphasis on learning.

“This isn’t ‘Shark Tank’,” says Deziel. “This event is about the journey, not the destination. We aim to provide a real learning experience to our contestants so that they are all gaining something from the process.”

Deziel has found that in rural areas, entrepreneurs are more likely to find themselves talking business with potential funders in a casual setting versus via scripted conference calls. Because of this, the ability to articulate plans and needs on the spot can be a determining factor in the success of a business. That’s where a good pitch comes in.

Contenders this year have been divided into two categories: idea track, where presenters are given two minutes each and one PowerPoint slide to discuss the furthering of an idea; and business track, where presenters are given six minutes each and 10 slides to share why their business could use funding at this time.

On Sept. 3, in the event semifinals, pitch participants vied for a seat in the Sept. 24 finals. Two idea-track presenters, Marie-Douce Dorion with locally made high-end herbal tea and Margit Foster with pediatric sleep consulting, moved one step closer to the finals where one will receive $1,000 towards the furthering of her idea.

Additionally, four business-track presenters — Chris Dubriske with Lumen Mesh, Steve Savage with VSquared Guitar Systems, Wangene and Mel Hall with Global Village Cuisine and Linda Rubin with Frisky Cow Gelato — will be moving on to the finals to compete for a $10,000 cash prize.

Maryann Kristiansen, executive director at the Hannah Grimes Center, eagerly shares her experience of watching these entrepreneurs move and grow through the Pitchfork Program which included participant mentorship. “From the moment our presenters first show up and give a stab at a business pitch, to the very end when they have boiled down the core essence of their project and can carefully articulate its benefits, the transformation is truly astounding,” she says. “I would argue that learning how to pitch is a skill that cannot be overlooked and also that an event like Pitchfork is a powerful way for local community members to support and know about local businesses.”

In addition to running this program, the Hannah Grimes Center assembled a team of judges who could offer perspective and guidance based on a diverse range of knowledge and experience as business owners and leaders in the surrounding community. This year’s judge table includes Susan Newcomer, director of Leadership Monadnock, Brittany Migneault, founder of The Bread Shed, Jim Verzino, entrepreneur in residence at Windham Grows, Damian Wasserbauer, founder of Wasserbauer IP Law, and Roy Wallen, CEO of Directional Healthcare Advisors, LLC.

On Sept. 24, these judges, along with the six remaining presenters, will congregate for one final pitch and the promise of a cash award towards the advancement of winning ideas and business models. More than a challenge, this pitch event can also serve as a model to bring together banks, community organizations, individuals and others interested in ensuring local businesses can access local loans and local investors.

For more information or to sign up, go to radicallyrural.org.