Big checks for big ideas

Chef cooks up winning recipe for Perfect Pitch contest.

Chef Deon won first place prize at the annual Perfect Pitch contest. —Brittany Bowker

A chef, a wedding expert, and a metalworking artist were awarded thousands of dollars in cash prizes last Tuesday, May 15, during the second annual Perfect Pitch contest, hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.

Chef Deon Thomas of the VFW won first place prize of $6,000, Jacalyn Kane of My Vineyard Elopement won the second place prize of $3,000, and the third place prize of $1,500 was awarded to MVRHS senior and metalworking artist Gabriel Bellebuono.

“There are a lot of people sitting on great ideas,” Nancy Gardella, executive director of the chamber, said to a crowded audience gathered in the Old Whaling Church of Edgartown’s downstairs community room. The contest spun out of an initiative by the chamber to jump-start Island entrepreneurs and startups. “Martha’s Vineyard is a place where startups have the opportunity to thrive,” Gardella said.

Thirteen Islanders pitched ideas to judges Anne Smith, Adam Turner, Brian Skidmore, and James Anthony. Names were drawn out of a hat, and contestants had 30 seconds to set up, three minutes to pitch, and two minutes to answer judges’ questions.

“Good evening, good evening. I’m excited to be here,” Chef Deon began. He was one of the last names drawn from the hat. “For the past 20 years, I have been cooking on this Island. I am the only chef serving our conch.”

He created a proprietary recipe, MV Conch Chowder, which is made from local and indigenous ingredients, and is high in vitamins, among them B12. His pitch exhibited confidence.

“When I win, I will use this money for production and promoting this soup on the Island,” he said, “And eventually distribute nationally.”

Second-place cash prize winner Kane was the first name drawn from the hat.

“Let me tell you a love story, or two,” she said, cuing live accompaniment by Mike Benjamin on acoustic guitar.

My Vineyard Elopement is in its sixth season creating “elegant and intimate” weddings and vow-renewal ceremonies.

“We want the world to know that we are love and same-sex friendly,” Kane said. “Which will in turn bring us to the next level.”

Kane pitched three specific goals she had in mind — hiring a social media expert, sponsoring local organization, and hiring an expert publicist to get the company’s name out to mainstream media.

“Let’s make a toast to love and our local economy,” she said.

Gabriel Bellebuono was the final name drawn from the hat. He distributed four steel-cut roses to each of the judges.

“I’ve always had a passion for working with metal,” Bellebuono said. “My most recent project has been making stainless steel roses.”

The original rose was a gift for Bellebuono’s girlfriend, and after posting photos on social media, he received a couple of dozen requests. “All of the sudden, it seemed everyone wanted to buy a metal rose as a graduation gift or an anniversary present for someone special,” he said. “The idea of getting money from something I designed and created seemed appealing, so I ran with it.”

With the winnings, Bellebuono wants to purchase a machine to weld so he can work more efficiently, and get his name out there as an artist: “After I graduate, I’m taking a gap year, and I’d love to use that time to make some really cool stuff.”


Other pitches included:

  • MV Allston’s Erice Belle-Williams’ new clothing line
  • Alexandra Bellen Coutts’ shared workspace and creative collective
  • MV Matchmakers by Deb Dunn
  • Expansion of Ladyfest by Kelly Feirtag and Rose Guerin
  • Expansion of MV Sea Salt by owner Heidi Feldman
  • Expansion of Breastfeeding World by founder Alexia Garcia
  • Mary Holmes’ We Teach Care, a dementia coaching and care-planning service
  • Dr. Bryan McShea’s Amid the Waters Chiropractic
  • Thiago Muniz’s home-finding and -listing service network
  • Joe van Nes’s design for building a biochar kiln


Each of the 13 contestants made it through a first round. Their applications were sent to off-Island evaluators, and contestants were vetted and sent feedback. The Chamber of Commerce then invited 13 of the 18 applicants to make their pitch.

The night was sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, Seidman Investment Portfolios, the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, Brian Skidmore of Sagan Harborside Sotheby’s International Realty, Cape and Islands SCORE, the Martha’s Vineyard Donor’s Collaborative, and donors Bob Green, John Abrams, Geoghan Coogan, Peter Norris, Kate Putnam, and Duncan Cooper.