ST. JOHNSBURY — There are a number of products you never knew you needed — you probably don’t own an eco-friendly bandana or chest freezer organizer, and chances are you haven’t even heard of biochar. These were some of the ideas pitched at the FreshTracks Road Pitch at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury. Friday, area residents stood before a group of experienced entrepreneurs, investors, and business owners to pitch and get feedback on their business plans.
The concept is similar to ABC’s Shark Tank — presenters share their product, plan, and prospective funding to a group of knowledgeable business persons. In return, they get feedback. Road Pitch is different in that a winner is named. Oh, and the judges are bikers.
Road Pitch is a multi-day motorcycle trip around Vermont, where a group of motorcycle riders with substantial experience in business ride to different small towns. There, they hear seven-minute pitches from local entrepreneurs, ultimately voting on which was best. The winner takes home a check for $500.
St. Johnsbury was the last stop on the 10-town tour this year, featuring four local presenters. The winners were Roger and Donna Pion, Barton residents who pitched a machine that produces biochar — a carbon-based product that can be used to improve water and retain nutrients in the soil. The Pions started a business, Biochar Waste Management, through which they plan to provide biochar for moderate-scale agricultural filtration systems that address nutrient runoff challenges.
In the allotted time, Donna was able to explain what biochar is, why it is useful, and how her company will be able to capitalize on it. “In a few years,” she said, “you won’t need a slide explaining biochar, because everyone will know what it is.” Donna described the product as “black gold,” an invaluable resource for farmers. Made from plant matter, biochar is an environmentally responsible option for those trying to improve crop yield and resolve runoff issues. When mixed with manure, Donna said it tempers the odor and repels flies.
She will meet with the winners from other Vermont towns in October for a final competition at Champlain College.
Biochar Waste Management’s competitors were Shamdanna, The Freezer Butler, and Northwind Weather Technologies. First up, Andrea Kane of Peacham pitched Shamdanna, an eco-friendly bandana for travel and rescue. She presented the panel with a prototype of her product, a triangular bandage made out of organic cotton, large and stretchy enough to properly create a sling.
“This has been a amazing, this whole process,” said Kane. “It’s really helped solidify the business for me.”
Regan Pride presented The Freezer Butler, a set of plastic dividers to organize chest freezers. During his presentation, Pride offered figures about his ever-expanding target customer base and ability to accommodate different appliance sizes. “You just won my heart with the research,” said one of the judges during the presentation.
Pride was very thankful for the opportunity to present. “It was this experience, the Road Pitch,, that got us to get all of our stuff together,” he said. “Now we’re ready to take the show on the road.”
Last to present, Dr. Jason Shafer from Lyndon State College pitched Northwind Weather Technologies. It is a prospective tech company that advances weather forecasting to aid electric utility companies during snow and ice storms. Shafer wants to help utility companies foresee probable power outages, saving them money by helping them respond efficiently.
Basil Stetson, one of the biking judges, was impressed with the pitches. “These presenters were definitely above average,” he said. “They all offered viable, investable ideas.” Stetson described how much he has enjoyed the bike tour, saying, “It’s just been fun. I really like listening to the ideas.” Stetson said he is happy to offer advice and thinks Road Pitch is a really positive program for Vermont in general.