Rapid-fire event helps budding entrepreneurs sell their ideas

By Joe Hotchkiss of the Augusta Chronicle


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Qiana Thomas of Augusta delivers a pitch for her business The Wacky Science Lab, which gives presentations designed to make science and technology fun for children ages 3-12.


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G60 Pitch Contest winner Jesse Lafian credits such events as a big help for people trying to start a business.

Organizers described it as American Idol meets Shark Tank. Maybe there’s a bit of The Gong Show thrown in. But it was strictly business.

Augusta business incubator theClubhou.se and the Alliance for Fort Gordon recently held the G60 Pitch Contest – a chance for anyone with a business idea to persuade investors to help bankroll the plan.

And you had to do it in a minute or less. The prize: $1,000.

“No slides, no demo, just get up there and tell us your idea,” said Clubhou.se co-founder Grace Belangia.

The event takes its G60 name from Gone in 60 Seconds, the 2000 action-heist film about thieves who quickly steal cars. Like the characters in the movie, the most successful G60 contestants best employ speed, skill and creativity to get the job done.

Twenty-two contestants showed up to deliver their best “elevator pitch” – that is, a summary of an idea quick enough to be completely delivered to a companion during a ride on an elevator.

A 23rd contestant, Becky Vasquez, sprang out of the audience to deliver an off-the-cuff pitch for the motivational team GoBe+. She described it as an “identity movement that encourages you to be you” and help people achieve their full potential.

That was during the “wild card” portion of the program. After the scheduled presenters pitched, anyone in the audience was allowed to take the floor unannounced and share an idea.

The Arkansas-based company Startup Junkie Consulting started G60 in August 2011 to promote startups; to help contestants sharpen their communications skills; and to increase what’s been called “creative collisions” among emerging entrepreneurs. The events have since been held throughout the South and as far north as Nova Scotia.

Tuesday’s event was the first G60 ever held in Georgia. Jeff Amerine, Startup Junkie’s founding principal, emceed. His company also put up the prize money.

“It works really well. Sixty seconds, rapid-fire,” Amerine said. He added that events such as this provide “the first step in that pipeline of activity” for skilled professionals who also are business novices, and not always sure how to approach potential investors about their ideas.

The Alliance for Fort Gordon cosponsored the event as part of its recently declared commitment to marketing the Fort Gordon Cyber District – essentially the Augusta metro area – to attract and grow technology careers locally.

Alliance Executive Director Tom Clark called the G60 event a “natural fit” for his group, which also promotes science, technology, engineering and math curricula in area schools. He said he hoped such events also attract critical thinkers.

TheClubhou.se, housed in the old Academy of Richmond County building on Telfair Street, is a shared workspace where its members can use modest office space and collaborate with fellow budding entrepreneurs in nurturing their business ideas.

Co-founder Eric Parker helped start the Clubhou.se in 2012, playing host to “hackathons” – fast-paced events during which computer professionals intensely collaborate on projects. Today, the Clubhou.se – a division of the nonprofit Hack Augusta Inc. – has helped start about 35 businesses.

Parker said events such as G60 “really draw people out of the woodwork. We’ve been trying to identify entrepreneurs here for a while.”

The judges for the event were Parker; Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis; and Colin Comfort, vice president of client services for the cybersecurity and mobile-app development company Metova, which has a Martinez location. They awarded the $1,000 Judge’s Choice prize. A $1,000 People’s Choice prize went to the contestant who won the most votes from the event’s 70-plus attendees.

The People’s Choice went to Daniel Scheimer. Last October he and others founded Skyraider Aeronautics, a company that offers “precision agricultural services” – using drones to offer 3-D mapping, crop assessments and spectral soil and plant analysis for farmers.

“We knew what we wanted to do, but we didn’t know how to run a business,” Scheimer said. “So thankfully, coming to theClubhou.se, in like less than three months they got us started up and helped us mold our business model, because we didn’t know what a business model was, really.”

The Judge’s Choice went to Jesse Lafian, a recent horticulture graduate from the University of Georgia. His new company, Reservoir LLC, sells a sensor he developed that provides landscapers with remote soil-moisture data. It measures not only how much water is in the soil, but also whether trees, crops or grass can use that water.

If it weren’t for events such as G60, he said, growing his business would be much more difficult.

“I wish there were more events like this,” Lafian said.

Reach Joe Hotchkiss at (706) 823-3543 or joe.hotchkiss@augustachronicle.com