Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
June 18, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Nine founders ‘pitch’ at the TVA Credit Union Ballpark Stadium

A tech-based company catering to golfers and golf courses took home the grand-slam prize of $10,000.

Held inside the TVA Credit Union Stadium in Johnson City, the sun was beating down on some rising star founders in the Tri-Cities area. After an hour’s delay, due to rolling storms in the area, event organizers couldn’t ask for sunnier skies for the 8th annual pitch competition.

It’s been 10 years since the Founders Forge began the annual pitch competition, though it was postponed for two years during the pandemic. Fifty percent of the founders who have pitched over the years are still working on their companies. One example of those is Lauren Glass Mullins, who was a judge in this year’s competition. Additionally, over the past decade, Founders Forge has awarded more than $50,000 in grants to winners of “The Pitch” competition.

A literal play on words for the event is that the competition takes place on home plate. The founders came up one by one to deliver a five-minute business pitch, while the other founders looked from the dugout. The audience is seated in the stadium bleachers.

Cathy Ball was the first to take the stage, not as a founder, but as the City Manager for Johnson City.

“I’m here to pitch you Johnson City, and talk about the rapid growth in our area,” she said. “It’s not going to be Johnson City unless it grows how the locals want it to. So, that’s why we’re here today pouring into local founders.”

To kick off the competition, an airhorn was blasted as loud as can be. Founders would get the airhorn at the five-minute mark to cut off their pitch and open up the floor for questions from judges.

Meet the companies

VenturUs

“Have you ever received a gift at Christmas that you just didn’t like at all,” asked Founder Ryan Maderic. “VenturUs allows your relatives and friends to gift you experiences versus physical items.”

He said the idea for the service is to create memories and experiences in a world that is so focused on material things. People using the app or website would be able to see curated local experiences… everything from food to hiking, biking, crafting, cooking, classes, activities, and more. Family members could curate a whole day of fun for their loved ones.

Ryan Maderic

The judges recommended that Maderic connect with the Tennessee tourism office to see how his services could also be of use to people visiting the state!

NutriSprout

“Many developers are coming into Johnson City and turning farmland into housing and commercial properties,” said Founder Justin Beavers. His concept is based on bringing a global concept for urban farming to Johnson City. he has taken a special interest in hydroponics, aquaponics, and other forms of vertical gardening – which Beavers said can grow just as much, if not more crop per season than a traditional farm.

Justin Beavers

Beavers said he would want to start with micro-greens, and if successful, he would move into more popular crops like lettuce and tomato.

The Veteran-owned startup believes that the year-round ability to produce food will help it establish the currently non-existent urban farming landscape in Johnson City.

GetFyt.io

Josh Russel Fritch, the Founder of GetFyt.io, shared a story about his wife’s career as a professional fitness trainer. He said it was difficult for her to find and retain clients, which is a shared frustration for many people in the industry.

Josh Russel Fritch

GetFyt.io “puts you at the center of your fitness,” he said. It helps coaches connect and maintain communication with their clients, make progress check-ins, and even offer virtual training options. Fritch shared a statistic that about 83 percent of people work out using workouts or trainers they find online. He wants GetFyt.io to be the all-in-one platform for personal trainers and clients.

PuttPal

“Who loves mini golf?” Founder Logan Craft asked.

Pretty much the whole crowd raised their hands… “And who loves keeping score, doing math, and holding paper, pencil, and putter at the same time?” Most of the hands dropped.

Craft shared about his new, active platform called PuttPal, which helps golfers keep track of their scores in real time. He said the app syncs with the specific golf course, allowing companies to sponsor different holes, and for the pars to auto-populate, without app users having to lift a finger.  The software officially launched a month ago and has already been installed with three different, local mini-golf courses in the Tri-Cities area.

Logan Craft

In terms of marketing the product, Craft has taken a bold, new approach. He completely builds out the software for the company to see ahead of time (which he says takes him about half an hour to program). The company can interact with the specific course and see how it could be used in real-time. Right now, Craft’s focus is on mini-golf courses. But, he is hopeful to expand it out into full-scale golf courses, if the app proves successful.

“We are asking you to put a hole in one with us. Not with a ball, but with that cold, hard $10,000 cash,” Craft closed.

EZP

Changing the tone a bit, Clayton Hardin began his pitch by talking about being a caretaker for his grandfather. He and his dad would have to help his grandfather with nearly every activity, including going to the bathroom.

Clayton Hardin

“I saw his confidence fade every day due to all the things we had to help him do, that he couldn’t do alone,” Hardin said. So, that’s why he is in the process of inventing an at-home, detachable urinal. It would be useful, Hardin explained, for people in nursing homes, folks with full-time caretakers, and people who suffer from lower mobility issues and can even be useful in potty training for young boys.

He is in the design phase, with plans to create the physical product for testing within the next few months.

Opinified

“Everyone has taken a survey at one point or another. They can feel clunky, annoying, and impersonal,” said Founder Logan Stiltner. However, from the business perspective, those surveys can be the key to understanding how people perceive their business. Stiltner would argue that those surveys are vitally important. That’s why he has created software that uses artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots to ask more curated questions about the client’s experience.

Logan Stilner

The AI advanced customer feedback platform is set to be released in beta in 2024, and Stiltner is looking for some companies to test drive it.

Shelfie

Brayden Young pitched the business, Shelfie, which he started with his Co-Founder Ana Rockhold.

Did you know that some brands spend between $70,000 and $$270,000 to get special placement on retail shelves? For example, to be a cereal box at eye-level, versus on the top shelf, it costs brands significant cash.

Brayden Young

“However, once the payment is made, and the box is placed in the paid-for spot, brands are still flying blind,” Young said. “They have no idea how effective that placement is – especially if they’re in thousands of stores nationwide. Shelfie adds a new approach to antiquated marketing methods. They plan to open a platform where gig workers can accept jobs to promote and demonstrate brands. These demonstrators could be in-person, or online, but they make commissions based on sales.

FreshGuard

Last, but not least, David Middaugh pitched his start-up, which seeks to eliminate food waste by integrating “Chitosan” – a type of fiber taken from the exoskeleton of insects and the shells of crustaceans. Right now, it’s primarily used in drug manufacturing; however, Middaugh’s research suggests the substance could also be vital to preserving fresh fruits and vegetables.

David Middaugh

“It’s one material with multiple applications,” he said. “It fights diseases and illness, increases crop yields, and keeps food fresher for longer.”

After the pitch competition, complete with a 7th inning stretch and a sing-along to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” judges selected PuttPal as the winner of the 8th Pitch competition.

Craft took home the $10,000 grand prize, and bragging rights as he was also selected as the crowd favorite!



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