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Shooting for the Moon

It is an entertaining business model that has drawn many admirers – a panel of business experts who listen to pitches from budding entrepreneurs, invest in projects and offer marketing tips.

Case in point, the popular Shark Tank reality TV program on ABC that has attracted an increasing number of viewers since it premiered in August 2009.

Following that model, organizers at the Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (NACET) at the Flagstaff campus on Gemini Drive initiated the Pioneer Pitch competition last year, with a return engagement this year.

Hosted by the Moonshot at NACET program, the pitch is a contest for innovators with ideas in need of support, as well as business professionals wanting to expand an existing idea.

“Last year’s event was a huge success,” said Scott Hathcock, CEO and president of Moonshot at NACET. “We had roughly 25 companies apply and extended 18 entries through to the first round. Then, we determined that five companies made it to the final pitch event.”                                                                                   

All the participants in last year’s event were business founders from Arizona or college students. Some came from as far away as Grand Canyon University to compete, added Hathcock, who spearheaded to concept of the pitch events.

“I thought of the pitch competition idea as a way to audit the local talent and see what types of entrepreneurs we could draw out,” he said. “The popularity of the TV show ‘Shark Tank’ has opened so many eyes to the possibility of becoming an entrepreneur.” 

Hathcock suggests that interested parties should watch the “Sharks in Space” video on the NACET website page to get an idea of the event: moonshotaz.com/flagstaff-2019.html.

Initially scheduled for Friday, Feb. 22, through Sunday, Feb. 24, the second annual event has been rescheduled to Friday, May 3 through Sunday, May 5 when extreme weather conditions necessitated that the Emergency Operation Center occupy the NACET building in order to serve the Flagstaff area.

“During the annual pitch event, we generally offer one to two scholarships to our program, so we would pick up a few more at the time of the event,” Hathcock explained. “Typically, we offer to see pitches throughout the year – once a quarter.”

Workshops will be hosted at the Gemini Drive campus, with the final competition at Lowell Observatory on Mars Hill.

Potential contestants were required to submit an application online and to post a two-minute video about their product or service on YouTube.

Each application and video was to explain why the candidate’s new product, service or innovative approach to marketing an existing product is unique.

“We’re capped at 15 to 20 total pitches because we try to give each person a chance to pitch three times on Saturday,” Hathcock explained.

Entrants will be competing for more than $15,000 in cash, scholarships and Amazon Web Services credits, as well as the chance to become an affiliate of Moonshot at NACET for a year.

The program takes entrepreneurs and their ideas through a rigorous process resulting in a viable product or investment-ready concept by the program’s end.

Entry to the competition is free and candidates will be selected based on the strength of their applications and videos.

The first day of competition on Friday will include an evening networking event with business leaders and community stakeholders.

All applicants will participate in a full day of workshops on Saturday where participants will be invited to refine their pitches at the Accelerator at NACET.

Keynote speakers will include Aram Chavez, a former investment banker turned entrepreneur, who now teaches at Arizona State University and is the founder of AHA to Exit, which has created a startup roadmap for new companies. Participants will also hear from Lisa Lloyd, an inventor who has licensed and brought numerous products to the market and won coveted investment for her product TC Pets on the television show Shark Tank. She is the founder of the Inventor’s Association of Arizona.

Prior to the competition final on Sunday at Lowell Observatory, there will be a panel discussion at 1 p.m. with Chavez and entrepreneur and business coach Dena Patton on the lessons they have learned building successful international businesses and brands.

Eight finalists will make five-minute pitches before a panel of business leaders beginning at 2 p.m.

The live panel and competition sessions on Sunday are open to the public.

Finalists will be judged on the strength of their presentation, which needs to demonstrate either an innovative product or approach to the marketplace and their understanding of how they need to position it to create a successful startup.

Representatives of Atlas Guides, which was the winning business in last year’s event, will give an update on their business while the judges deliberate.

“It got us into a world of professionals who could give us advice based on their experience,” said Alice Bodnar, who owns Atlas Guides with her husband, Paul. “It’s a validation, too, of our business concept, “ Paul Bodnar added.

The online application can be found at moonshotaz.com/flagstaff-2019.

Pioneer Pitch is presented by the City of Flagstaff and Choose Flagstaff. Sunwest Bank is the title sponsor and even co-sponsors are AWD Law and W.L. Gore Associates. The following are supporting sponsors: AWS, Canyon Angels, Canyon Diablo Distillery, Lowell Observatory, Nackard Beverages, Shift Creative, Woz-U, Wunderlust Brewing Company, and Zoho. The statewide Pioneer Pitch tour sponsor is AP.

In addition to the Flagstaff Pioneer, pitch competitions will also be presented in Show Low, and Verde Valley in 2019. FBN

By Betsey Bruner, FBN

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