Friday, Sept. 26, 2014 | 2 a.m.
A handful of Las Vegas-based startup companies got a rare chance on Thursday to pitch polished business plans to a judge’s panel for a bid to win a prize package worth $15,000.
Sponsored by Cox Communications and Inc.com, “Get Started Vegas” pared down a list of 30 contestants to just five. Once qualifying contestants took the stage at the Palms’ Rain Nightclub, they had 2 1/2 minutes make their best pitches in a “Shark Tank”-style competition judged by executives of Cisco Systems, Detroit Venture Partners and Trend Nation LLC.
The event aimed to create a networking opportunity for budding entrepreneurs and offer an outlet for those entrepreneurs to practice pitching their ideas to investors, falling in line with Get Started’s motto: “Network. Learn. Pitch.”
After each pitch, the judges offered the entrepreneurs five minutes of feedback and then selected a winner based on three main points: originality, ease of implementation and community impact.
The contestants’ business specialties ran the gamut, from quirky desserts to technology that protects people from cellphones to Internet-based interior design.
In the first pitch to judges, Design by Numbers founder Rebecca Zajac described her company as an “online portable approach to interior design."
Design by Numbers has branded itself as an online interior design company offering mood boards on its website so customers can actually see what their room would look like according to a selected design. The site also offers shopping lists detailing items needed to fulfill a design.
How does it work? The site interacts with clients through an exchange of images, Zajac said.
Josh Linkner, CEO of Detroit Venture Partners, had one biting question: How do you make money?
Zajac was quick with a response, saying the company plans on charging a design fee to bring in cash.
When Zajac left the stage, the panelists scribbled her score on their cards.
R. Blank took a grim angle with his pitch.
“EMF destroys DNA,” said the founder of EM Shield. “Few people know that according to Apple you’re not even supposed to hold an iPhone [against] your head.”
EM Shield, a budding technology company interested in the dangers of wireless devices like cellphones and laptops, recently developed and built a line of products that protects people from exposure to harmful electromagnetic fields.
One product is called “Pocket Patch,” which allows users to iron protective patches to the inside of their pockets to make it safer to carry their cellphones.
At the end of his pitch, Blank offered a closing tagline: “Shield your body with EM Shield.”
The audience clapped. Then the judges weighed in.
“It was a great, great pitch,” said Linkner, who liked the fact that Blank told a story and offered a solution to a problem in a meaningful way.
The downside? The brand isn’t fun or engaging.
Brad Howard, the founder and president of Trend Nation LLC, who advised Blank to avoid becoming pigeon-holed as a medical-oriented brand and come up with something more upbeat.
Lastly, Tim Washer, a senior marketing manager at Cisco wondered: Are the products TSA approved? Can you take them through airport security?
“Yes,” Blank said. “You’ll have to take off your pants every time you go through.”
The audience laughed.
In her pitch to sell Sharetown, Jorja Leavitt told a story about neighbors Susan and Jody.
Susan recently upgraded her washer and dryer package and has been having trouble getting rid of the old appliances.
She doesn’t want to sell them on Craigslist, “because it’s creepy,” Leavitt said. She doesn’t want to use her personal Facebook page to peddle goods.
What Susan doesn’t know is her neighbor Jody is looking for a washer and dryer and doesn’t mind if they’re used.
“How do they connect?” Leavitt asked. “Sharetown.”
Leavitt said the company markets itself as an easy way for a consumer to buy, sell or rent goods with family and friends in the neighborhood, allowing users to earn cash by renting or selling items they own to people who need them.
The product is already in 2,000 neighborhoods nationwide, and Leavitt hopes to expand.
Judges wondered just how Sharetown differed from sites like Craigslist and eBay. Leavitt said Sharetown is a mix of the best features from Facebook, Craigslist and eBay.
In a real-time economy, David Leibner said, you should be able to buy a friend a drink in real time.
That’s where “It’s On Me” comes in, said the founder of the smartphone application that allows users to send gifts to friends in real time.
CEO Leibner pitched his company as a business “focused on the entire ecosystem of the hospitality industry.”
He pegged It’s On Me to social networking factoids like this one: Facebook sends out 50 million birthday alerts every day.
But in a real-time economy, Leibner said, we should be able to buy a drink for a friend or colleague in real time.
Judges seemed confused about how the application actually worked.
Leibner said it’s simple: When a friend sends a gift via It’s On Me, they get a gift card that can be redeemed when it’s time to square up the check at the end of the night. If someone gifts a bottle of Champagne at the bar, the recipient can use the card to pay for it.
When It’s On Me first hit the market, the platform sent out 1,000 a month. Today, more than 100,000 gifts go out every month.
Michael Childrey tried to get the audience’s attention in a different way, chanting:
“Who loves cake! Who loves cake!”
The audience played along, some attendees admitting that they do, in fact, love cake.
As owner of Michaela’s Decadent Desserts, Childrey hopes everyone loves cake.
His specialty? Cake pops in red velvet, chocolate and carrot cake flavoring. The cake pops look like push-pop Popsicles, but instead of frozen dairy, consumers find creamy cake. Or, more simply: cake on a stick.
Early on, Childrey embraced his struggle with a pitch in front of an audience of 200 people.
“I’m not the best speaker,” he said. “But I try to make the best product.”
He kept the pitch short and simple:
“It’s clean, it’s handy, it’s easy to store,” Childrey said. “This is the next cupcake. It’ll be bigger than the cupcake.”
At the end of Childrey’s pitch, Linkner complimented Childrey’s personality: “You’re authentic,” he said.
Howard asked how Childrey planned to distribute the product in mass quantity.
Childrey said his specialty will always be making the best product he can — and he’ll eventually find someone to help him figure out how to best distribute his cake pops.
Throughout the night, the audience texted votes for their favorite presenters to a special Cox number.
The results posted to a digital display board at the front of the nightclub.
According to the audience vote, Sharetown and It’s On Me were separated by very few votes, the other three pitchers receiving almost no votes.
But at the end, it was EM Shield’s R. Blank who came out on top.
He hoisted a giant check for $15,000 in prizes — including gift cards for business and media services — and smiled, speechless in the flashes of a dozen cameras.