Knoxville pitchers impress Marc Portney during Knoxville stop for “All American Makers” co-host

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Marc Portney used words or phrases like “incredible,” “very unique,” “amazing,” and “perfect licensing deal” to describe the products that were pitched to him on Thursday night at an event at Pellissippi State Community College.

Co-sponsored by the Tennessee Inventors Association and the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC), the event featured one of the stars of the “All American Makers” television show carefully listening and providing feedback to about 10 local inventors who were pitching their ideas.

“I buy and sell companies,” Portney, a native of Queens, NY, told the audience in a fireside chat ahead of the pitches. “I started from scratch. I want to help (other) people starting from scratch.”

His approach was somewhat more laidback than you might experience in a more typical pitch event judged by investors. While Portney clearly does invest in companies, his questioning was not about the specifics of the financial plan as much as it was about the manufacturability of the product, costs associated with the production, and marketing strategies.

Bruce Hayes, TSBDC Executive Director in Knoxville, noted in his introductory comments that this was “a unique event (that has) never been done here before.” He added that a regional version could be in the works for later in the year.

Portney is familiar with the region, having recently executed a deal with Tennessee entrepreneurs Jim Cochran and Stacy Lee Chambers for their revolutionary fishing product HOOKY. They were in attendance as was John McMillan of Shockwave Motors, developer of the Defiant EV3 Roadster, who appeared on Season 2 of the “All American Makers” show.

Portney told the audience that Global Source Infrastructure Partners, one of his companies, sees and evaluates 20 to 40 products a week. From the discussion during each pitch, it appears that many of those who presented will get at least a follow-up conversation with Portney or one of his associates.

What is he looking for?

“Passion . . . (it’s) the key to everything,” Portney said. “If you don’t have passion, stay in bed. What are you getting-up for?”

Other advice that he offered the event attendees was to be coachable if they wanted others to invest in their ideas. When individuals are pitching, Portney encouraged them to define the problem, how the product that is being pitched solved the problem, and why an individual needs to buy it.

Using humor, candor and his own low-key but passionate approach, Portney listened intently to each of the presenters and offered some solid advice.

The first person pitching was Michelle Roberts (pictured here) who has developed Band Keeper, a travelling case that allows individuals who collect Apple Watch Bands to take up to 40 different ones on trips. Neither Portney (shown examining the case) nor many in the audience were aware of this market opportunity, but Roberts reported that she has sold 1,200 cases online since last summer.

“Step up the flow,” Portney advised her in terms of ordering more inventory from her suppliers to grow the business. “Go to brick and mortar stores. We’ll reach-out to you and have a conversation.”

That was pretty much the approach with each of those pitching, whether it was Eddie Turner who showed a prototype of a clothes hanging device that easily attaches to a door and holds up to 10 outfits to Joel Brown who showed a prototype of a tactical public address system to more effectively broadcast messages to a wide geographic area during emergency events like the Gatlinburg fires of several years ago or the more recent California fires.

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