The Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, the Martha’s Vineyard Donor’s Collaborative, Cape and Islands SCORE, Edgartown National Bank, and Seidman Investment Portfolios collaborated to support the Island’s entrepreneurial spirit with an event called Perfect Pitch on Thursday night, Feb. 23. Held in the Baylies Room of the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown, Perfect Pitch was the Island version of the popular television reality show “Shark Tank.”
In ABC’s version, mega-successful CEOs listen to brief descriptions of creative business ideas from aspiring entrepreneurs, and then ask questions about revenue, marketing, competition, distribution, and other relevant information. If they like what they hear, they sometimes choose to invest in the new startup.
For the Island’s Perfect Pitch, the contest was judged by members of the local business community. Contestants had just three minutes to pitch their new business ideas, then the judges had a few minutes to ask questions. After all 11 contestants were heard, the judges went off to confer for 10 minutes, and came back with three winners and an honorable mention.
Peter Temple, executive director of the Donors Collaborative, served as an emcee for the event.
“We want to help create more year-round jobs and higher-paying jobs, especially for kids coming out of high school,” Mr. Temple told the audience, a sizable crowd for the inaugural event. “We’d like to create a local business incubator and try to support all the people here tonight, not just the winners.”
Organizers said they got the idea to host Perfect Pitch from Cape and Islands SCORE. The same event was hosted on the Cape, and only five people participated; the Island version drew 11 creative participants vying for a total of $5,000 in prize money.
Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, explained the rules, and pointed out that her office manager, Monique Belair, would be holding up a sign when the contestants were down to their final minute.
“Pitches are for a new business idea or a new twist on an established business,” Ms. Gardella explained. Then she said, “When the timer goes off, the hook will come out, and you’re done.”
The first contestant, Greg Martino from Cottage City Oysters, wound up walking away with the first-place prize, a check for $3,000.
The money will help the new business purchase Floating Upweller System (FLUPSY), equipment that will allow Cottage City Oysters to produce more oysters faster.
Currently Mr. Martino and his brother and business partner Dan Martino pay 7 cents each for ¾-inch seed; with FLUPSY they will be able to purchase seed the size of a grain of sand for 1 cent each. The FLUPSY will push water out and keep it flowing, providing oxygen and food for the oysters.
“More flow, more food,” Mr. Martino told the judges, “and more food increases the growth of the oyster.”
He said that Cottage City Oysters is already solar-powered, and that he and his brother could convert the new equipment to solar as well.
Laura Marshard and Emily Moehnke of Sonnyside Rides placed second with their idea to tap into the growing wedding market on the Island with their two Percherons, Tim and Tex. The business partners offer carriage rides and hayrides. They were decked out in riding clothes for their presentation, and even arranged for the horses to show up just outside the windows of the Baylies Room, leading to most of the audience getting out of their seats and heading over to the windows to take a peek at Tim and Tex.
“Whether your event is in a field, a farm, or coming down Main Street, let us get you to the church on time,” Ms. Marshard said the in conclusion of their presentation.
They told the judges they would use their prize, which in the end was a check for $1,500, to develop the wedding business, buying advertising in print and online.
Coming in in third place was Michael Joly of Hear Now Systems with his product, Sōn, which produces “noise reduction for your mind,” Mr. Joly told the judges.
“There’s been thousands of years of meditation and yoga, but only 10 percent of people practice them,” he said. “It’s time-consuming, and some people still think it’s weird.”
Mr. Joly’s audio product was silver and round, and easily fit in the palm of his hand. He said it works by “shifting the user’s focus from bad thoughts in their head to good sounds around them.”
He demonstrated the product, which sounded much like the gong that begins Buddhist meditation, with the sound tapering off to a vibration. His third-place $500 prize will help him get his product off the ground. “I have 350 people waiting for a sample for video testimonials,” Mr. Joly told the judges.
Before Ms. Gardella announced the three top winners, she took a moment to recognize Dolores Borza, owner of HomeGrown Tours MVI, for her efforts to further develop an aspect of her business. Ms. Borza, a third-generation Islander, has two 17-passenger buses that are handicapped-accessible. She explained to the judges that she wants to expand her business to include service to persons with disabilities who want to enjoy an Island tour.
“There are accessible tours in many places on the West Coast, a few on the East Coast,” Ms. Borza explained. “There’s a large volume of people turned away because they can’t be accommodated.
“My business would allow every person to relax and enjoy a Vineyard tour, and no one would get left out,” Ms. Borza told the judges. Her efforts garnered her an honorable mention.
Two of the contestants, Daniel Gaines and Natalija Lakis, are seniors at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, and demonstrated their creativity and business savvy. Mr. Gaines heads up Sea Blue Co., a job-posting site that lists maritime employment opportunities. One of his first customers was the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. He was hoping to win the competition in order to beef up his online presence.
“I’m a big advocate of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math),” Mr. Gaines told The Times, “and this all started when I was trying to build internship opportunities on a website.”
He told the judges during his presentation that he wanted to develop a “one-stop shop” for young people looking for maritime jobs.
Ms. Lakis is in the process of developing Glow Ups, reflective fabric cutouts that can be attached to children’s pajamas, making children easier to find in case of a nighttime house fire.
“Four hundred and eighty-eight children 14 and under die in home fires every year,” Ms. Lakis told the judges. She explained that most children are not aware of fire safety, and that they’re scared and might hide during a fire. “Anything reflective would help save their lives,” Ms. Lakis said. She explained that she is already collaborating with the Oak Bluffs Fire Department and her business teacher to help decide the best way to develop her product.
By all accounts, at the end of the evening Perfect Pitch was a resounding success.
“It really exceeded my expectations,” Mr. Temple told The Times after the event. “People say the Vineyard is a creative place, but that was living proof!”
First Prize: Greg Martino of Cottage City Oysters
Second Prize: Laura Marshard and Emily Moehnke of Sonnyside Rides
Third Prize: Michael Joly of Hear Now Systems
Honorable Mention: Dolores Borza of HomeGrown Tours MVI
Other participants included Toni Kauffman with Scented Cabin Air Filter, Steve Gallas with Beach in a Box, Daniel Gaines of Sea Blue Co., Erich Luening of New England Aquafarmer, Natalija Lakis with Glow Ups, Jon Parker of Cape and Islands Carpet, and Martha Abbot with Moving Through the Steps.