Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

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Weekend edition May 10, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Hair-loss prevention company prevails at the ‘Launchpad Pitch Competition’

The Sky City Entrepreneur Center in Maryville hosted its annual “Launchpad Pitch Competition” on Thursday evening.

The annual Launchpad Pitch Competition was met with a large turnout, five local start-ups, and a $3,000 check made out to the winner. The event is hosted by the Sky City Entrepreneur Center, a local resource for small businesses, founders, and new companies in Blount County.

Ashley Merrick, the Founder of United Capping, secured the grand prize and seized the opportunity to do an air guitar on the mega check. She was ecstatic, and so was the crowd.

Ashley Merrick, United Capping
Ashley Merrick, United Capping

Her company was born out of a personal struggle with 2+, estrogen-positive, breast cancer. She received the dreaded diagnosis in August of 2021 and inevitably ended up in chemotherapy for treatment. It was hard on Merrick, her husband, and her two boys.

However, through the hardship, she found peace and contentment in a process called “cold capping.” It is the process of cooling the scalp before, during, and after chemotherapy to prevent alopecia.

According to her pitch, 80 percent of patients keep 50 percent of their hair if they use this method. Merrick is one of those success stories.

“I never looked sick, my kids and husband never had to see me without hair, I never had to look in the mirror and be reminded of my illness,” she said.

In 2022, she got word from her oncologists that she was cancer-free. From that point forward, she wanted to help other women have access to the same confidence by keeping their hair during chemotherapy.

United Capping is a service-based business model that provides individual training with patients, training during the first chemotherapy session, or complete capping for the duration of treatment.

The slogan for the company is, “You fight the cancer, we fight the hair loss.” Merrick said that is really what it’s all about – helping women feel confident in their cancer journey.

The other companies who pitched at the event ran the gamut of industries and innovations.

Cheyanne Marsten, who won the Audience Choice award, pitched C.C. Marsten & Co, a company that would provide an aging planning services for seniors. She helps elderly people make a plan, whether they decide to age in place, be transported to a new home, or get connected with caregivers.

C.C. Marsten & Co.
C.C. Marsten & Co.

Catherine Ensworth pitched Smocked Revival as a platform to connect moms with re-sale boutique children’s clothing. Her business model is to pay people to donate the clothes, and then sell them on an e-commerce site for a small profit.

Smocked Revival
Smocked Revival

“Kids grow out of clothes fast, and it gets expensive when you need to buy a new wardrobe in new sizes every few months,” Ensworth said. “So, consignment for quality children’s clothing makes a lot of sense.”

Valerie Colclough pitched a mobile coffee bar called Brew-Ha-Ha. It would be quality coffee on wheels. Though there are many coffee shops in East Tennessee, Colclough said there’s “space for everyone.”

She thinks having a mobile coffee unit is a unique asset to the Blount County community.

Brew Ha-Ha
Brew Ha-Ha

The last start-up to pitch was co-founded by a couple, Brian and Cindy Canfield, who designed and engineered a device that would support residential, novice gardeners. The device reads the quality of the soil, plant conditions, and environmental factors to give the gardeners a better read on the health of their garden.

Their start-up is called Harvest Thyme and even connects to an app so the information goes straight to the user’s phone.

Fresh Thyme
Fresh Thyme

You can read more about the event here.


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