It all came down to Roark Thompson, who had the unenviable task as the last of 10 finalists to pitch the three judges in the first Springfield Hustles competition.
At stake was a grand prize package of $10,000 and more than $76,000 in services to help a start-up business grow.
Instead of sweating it out backstage at the John Legend Theater, Thompson used the time to refine his pitch for his company, PIPE Ag, and it turned out the best was saved for last as the Springfield-based farming technology business earned the big prize.
Thompson, a 2004 Greenon High School graduate, created PIPE Ag to help farmers optimize their options through technology using an iPad with cellular connection through a software platform using Cloud-based platform to help farmers connect their fleet.
The competition finalists pitched everything from sporting activities to wedding offerings to substance abuse prevention and even e-greeting cards. The pitches were made in a format similar to the popular reality series “Shark Tank” in which contestants try to get investors for their products.
It came down to four finalists, all Springfield-based, including Jon Francis who pitched a bicycle shop/social center; Wittenberg University student Melanie Barrett with Bailey Bug, which offers apparel and accessories for wheelchair users; Eric Mata of Substance Abuse Prevention Institute, a residential program for OVI offenders; and PIPE Ag.
Matt Davis, co-founder and CEO of COhatch, which will open a location in Springfield in 2020 and served as a judge along with Lauren Tiffan and Jason Duff, said a lot of criteria went into the final decision. PIPE stood out on two fronts.
“PIPE had local impact technology that could grow outside of Springfield,” said Davis.
Thompson, who started PIPE 14 months ago, admitted to joining the competition as a way to network at the very least.
“I’m still in shock, there was such incredible competition,” he said. “It’s all been exciting and a lot of fun.”
Thompson told the crowd the big picture was to help save family farms. He currently runs the business from a 100-square-foot shop out of his Ridge Road home. He’s glad to be able to develop it from his hometown due to the victory.
While there was only one grand prize awarded, the competition’s finale wasn’t necessarily the end. All of the finalists have been offered a free three-month residency at COhatch when it opens.
Davis said working with and receiving coaching from the staff can potentially help make C-level pitch presentations into A-level. There were also audience members who may have had interest in working with the contestants, who were encouraged to continue their dreams.
Not unlike Thompson, Rob Alexander, one of the lead organizers of Springfield Hustles, admitted he wasn’t sure what would come of the whole process, but was thrilled following Wednesday’s inaugural event, which drew an estimated crowd of about 300 people.
“We were flying blind. I’m excited to see how this fire has been lit under Springfield, it shows this city is hungry for small businesses,” Alexander said.
Several area businesses and organizations and business leaders were part of the team. Alexander said this was just the beginning as the team plans to meet to find how to grown Springfield Hustles into an annual event to bring more potential business to town and make dreams to come true.
“This Is just the start of a journey,” he said.
For more information on Springfield Hustles, go to springfieldhustles.com.
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