Vermont investors take to the road to hear pitches for next hit business venture

Nancy Warner, owner of Potlicker Kitchen of Stowe, is congratulated by FreshTracks Road Pitch founder Cairn Cross for her beer jelly pitch in Hyde Park recently. Photo by Kayla Collier, Stowe Reporter

By Gillian English

Any entrepreneur has dreams of pitching their business or product to enthusiastic investors who can give them a chance to launch their vision. This summer, several dozen Vermont small businesses got that chance with the fourth annual FreshTracks Road Pitch.

Cairn Cross, co-founder of the Shelburne venture capital firm FreshTracks, came up with the idea for the Road Pitch in 2014. He and a group of “business bikers” hit the road and spent a couple of weeks riding around Vermont listening to the pitches of local business owners. In return, FreshTracks promised to invest in some of the ideas, awarding the top pitch cash and a mentorship to hone their marketing and development skills.

The goal of the Road Pitch event, Cross said, was to connect entrepreneurs with resources such as capital and advice, help them refine their pitching skills, showcase entrepreneurship, and find opportunities for private investors all while promoting motorcycle touring in Vermont.

Over the past two weeks, Cross and several dozen colleagues made 10 stops around Vermont and heard 44 pitches from up-and-coming entrepreneurs. At each stop, the winner received $500 and a Vermont Teddy Bear leather-clad biker bear as a souvenir of the experience. The businesses included food and beverage companies, software companies, manufacturing companies, clothing companies, and natural products companies, Cross said.

The riders began in Essex Junction and continued on to Grand Isle, Lowell, Rutland, Bennington, Brattleboro, Randolph, Barre, and St. Johnsbury, ending in Hyde Park last week.

Despite the unpredictability of the weather, the bikers stayed “surprisingly on schedule,” Cross remarked, noting that the only time they got delayed was when they rode to Randolph with Gov. Phil Scott. Previously as lieutenant governor and now as governor, Scott likes to pop in on this event, riding along for some of it, making remarks at the pitch gathering and listeninto some of the pitches, Cross said.

In Essex, the winning pitch came from software platform company MajorWise that helps career-counseling departments better connect college and even high school students with internship, volunteer, and learning opportunities. The company moves on to the statewide “Pitch Off” final competition in October at Champlain College.

At the final round, the top contenders from all 10 of the different summer Road Pitch locations will compete for a grand prize of $4,000 and a year’s worth of mentoring from the Road Pitch riders.

Last year’s winner was a South Hero company called MacroFuel Food, named for a powder that could be mixed with water to provide a full, drinkable meal intended as a pre-workout drink. MajorWise will be joined at the final round with the top from the other Road Pitch stops this summer:

Sustainability Benefits from Grand Isle: A service that allows employers to advance sustainability initiatives beyond the office walls.

Vermont Chalky Paint from Lowell: A non-toxic paint that’s mined, manufactured, and engineered in Vermont.

Fire Technologies International, LLC from Rutland: A firm that supervises and controls of fire hose discharges.

Valt from Bennington: Helps eliminate the threat of digital theft with software that presents a new approach to password management.

Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind from Brattleboro: A smoked maple syrup made from real maple syrup and hardwood smoke.

Edgeworks Creative from Randolph: Provides interactive eLearning tools for a classroom setting.

Whistlekick from Barre: A provider and distributor of branded gear, accessories, and clothing for martial artists.

Biochar Waste Management from St. Johnsbury: A carbon product produced from plant matter that is used to improve water quality and increase retention in soil.

Potlicker Kitchen from Hyde Park: Specializes in beer jelly, wine jelly, small-batch jams, and pickles.

Cross said the 60 or so bikers who joined him on the road have a lot of business advisory and investing experience. “We had a lot more folks riding with us this year,” Cross said, “including 14 people from outside Vermont who came specifically to do this event. We’ve always had one or two, but to get so many non-Vermonters was really exciting.”

The final “Pitch Off” is Oct. 14, 4-9 p.m. in the Champlain Room of the Center for Communications and Media at Champlain College. It is open to the public.

VTDigger.org contributed to this report.

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