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February 19, 2023 | Tom Ballard

“Launchpad Pitch Event” won by Lil Cub Den

Start-ups pitching at Thursday night event in Maryville also included a vintage toy store, an equine-assisted healing facility, a playhouse to teach performance and production, and a service for building code compliance.

The ideas covered the spectrum . . . from a facility for preschoolers to play while their parents engaged with other adults to a vintage toy store, an equine-assisted healing facility, a playhouse to teach performance and production, and a service for building code compliance.

The event was Thursday night’s inaugural “Launchpad Pitch Event” organized by the Sky City Entrepreneur Center and held at the SkyView at Broadway Social event center in Downtown Maryville. About 75 to 80 people turned out for the competition that was co-emceed by Lane Shuler and Jonathan “Courageous’ Clark who provided a good deal of levity. And one of those pitching – Aaron Killian of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Clutter – did so in a Santa Claus suit.

Lil Cub Den, a facility in Maryville that offers a place for pre-K kids to play and their parents to be around other adults, captured the judges nod, and the selection came a $2,500 check, courtesy of Aptus DesignWorks.

Courtesy of Sky City Entrepreneur Center.

Jonnay Wenger (pictured at right), Founder of Lil Cub Den, described herself as a stay-at-home mom who relocated from California and saw a void in space where “kids can play, and adults can chat.” The initial phase of the renovations to a building located at 2730 U.S. Highway 411 South have been completed, and the business offers two-hour play dates from 9 to 11 a.m. and 12 noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is also open for birthday parties.

There were four other competitors.

James Tente of Insight Code Consulting. Describing himself as a Building Inspector for 23 years, Tente said, “I see 3,200 sets of plans a year, and 95 percent of them can’t pass code.” The company provides commercial building code interpretations, plan reviews, and training for building professionals, government agencies, and trade associations, solving problems before they become problems.

Robyn McCammon who substituted for Pamela Savell, Founder of Adventure Playhouse. The business offers an inclusive concept of theatre education for ages 1 – 13, where each student is provided with foundational skills for performance and production, with a focus on collaboration and camaraderie.

Killian is Founder of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Clutter, a buy-sell-trade model toy store. He said he has a geographically broad network of toy collectors and plans a gift registry. “Blount County does not have a vintage toy store,” Killian said.

Sara Garnett, Founder of Raised Valley Farm. Noting that Tennessee ranked 45th in the country in terms of access to mental health services, Garnett describes the start-up as “a community service offering sessions that incorporate horses to help teach life skills such as confidence and boundaries to those who need them and are ready to level up their lives.

Most pitch events include an audience favorite award, and that was the case with the “Launchpad Pitch Event.” The winner was to be determined by the number of votes purchased for $5 each and cast by those in attendance for one of the five competitors. The amount of money that was placed on the top vote-getter went to that start-up. It was initially announced on Thursday night that the Adventure Playhouse received the most votes, but Sky City announced on Friday that, “due to a technical error, some of the Launchpad’s Audience Choice votes were not tabulated when we announced the winner.” The winner when all votes were counted was actually Sara Garnett of Raised Valley Ranch.

As a result of the mix-up, Sky City announced that “we are awarding two Audience Choice Awards for this event. Sara and her close competitor, Pamela Savell of The Adventure Playhouse, will receive their winnings from the votes.”

Courtesy of Sky City Entrepreneur Center.

Judges for the competition (pictured here left to right) were : (1) Tina Rhea, Founder of REO Cheesewagon; (2) Aaron Carroll, Principal Engineer at Aptus DesignWorks; and (3) Jimmy Morgan, Vice President at First Horizon Bank.

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