Chocolate-based startup a winning recipe at 'Pitch Fest'
When juxtaposed with school security innovations and a homespun media services startup, the allure of artisan chocolate proved too powerful for the competition at a recent event to promote fledgling entrepreneurial concepts in East Multnomah County.
The pitch from Jason Jackson of Jason's Artisan Chocolates won the day at the first Start-Up East Metro Pitch Fest event held Thursday evening, Aug. 8, at Gresham City Council Chambers off of Eastman Parkway. Jackson's presentation, which included chocolate samples circulated around the small but enthusiastic audience, earned him 48% of votes and the top prize $1,500 from event sponsor East Metro Economic Alliance (EMEA). Lyfe Tech owner Alexis Figueroa prototype of bullet-resistant vests for classrooms brought in 36% of the vote and a $360 prize, while Paul Summers, founder of NBH Family Media, specializing in video production for nonprofit groups, took third place and $175 with 16% of votes.
Jackson — inspired by his grandmother's chocolate-making magic — started his business three years ago with his father, and admitted he was pleased by the audience's response despite feeling "kinda nervous."
"It's about trying to figure out what everyone wants to hear," he said. "Tonight was about telling people what we do and why we do it."
That the chocolate company has shipped its dark delights to countries like Kazakhstan and Belgium that are known for chocolate, makes Jackson feel he's on the right path.
"This gives me more confidence that I can do the next pitch," he said.
EMEA Executive Director Jarvez Hall conjured up Pitch Fest to further the organization's goal of "supporting the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region." Entrepreneurs and small business owners were given a set time to pitch their ideas in the manner of ABC TV's "Shark Tank" business-based reality show, with audience members serving as judges, asking questions of the pitchers before casting votes via their smartphones.
The cash prizes are intended to enhance their business growth, Hall noted. Half of the event's admission fees go toward increasing the pool of money available to winning entrepreneurs.
Paul Summers, who started the evening event with a low-key presentation about his video-oriented media company, said for now he earns money from streaming his music online as well as online donations toward his goal of running marathons.
Responding to an audience member's question, Summers said in five years he would like to see his company branch out to serve other parts of the country, noting that "anyone willing to work for me, I'm willing to give them the shirt off my back."
Figueroa, who acknowledged that Lyfe Tech's focus on marketing bullet-protection vests in an alarmed, quick-access storage box is an unfortunate reality in modern-day society, is encouraged by the response he's received so far from academic leaders for his innovations.
"I'm meeting with the Seattle University provost," he noted. "It's unfortunate we have to prepare for that, but we all have to think (about safety preparations)."
Although several participants who signed up for Pitch Fest were unable to attend for various reasons, Hall thought the event went well and set the stage for other pitch nights to follow.
"It's really exciting to see entrepreneurs blossoming out here in East County," Hall said, noting the success of Portland-based events like Pitch Latino and Portland Startup Week. "We wanted to get that same spirit out here.
"We plan to keep doing Pitch Fest," he added. "Supporting (startups) this way really makes a difference connecting us to the larger entrepreneurial scene."
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