By Kate Barcellos
The fourth annual FreshTracks Road Pitch arrived at The MINT — Rutland’s Makerspace last week in a flurry of roaring engines.
A fleet of 56 motorcyclists from across Vermont strapped on their helmets and mounted their motorcycles, heading for the next stop on their three-day Vermont tour to meet the newest entrepreneurs and hear the latest ideas coming from the “makers” in Rutland.
“People don’t know what a ‘maker’ is,” said Karen McCalla, maker evangelist and event co-director. “If they’re a hobbyist, a tinkerer, they’re ‘makers.’ They want to be here, they just don’t know it yet.”
It was no garden-variety motorcycle club descending on Rutland: The riders are CEOs, managers, spearheaders, starters, creators and businesspeople who have risen through the ranks to become the premier faces of their companies. These include Don Mayer, CEO of Small Dog Electronics; Leyna Jackson, manager for Vermont Teddy Bear and Sivan Cotel, co-founder of Stonecutter Spirits.
“This is a great way to connect local entrepreneurs and investors,” said The MINT board member Joshua Lake. “It’s a way to fill in the gaps and make these businesses a reality.”
For the Road Pitch, The MINT selected five budding entrepreneurs to present their product ideas to the Road Pitch Riders, each of which had partially or fully functional websites, business plans and goals mapped out in their presentations.
The goal was for the new makers to learn from the best, to hear what experience and time had taught the riders, and what ensured their entrepreneurial success.
The first presenter, Francois Gossieaux, introduced “Local Captures,” offering regional tours of scenic locations by local photographers.
Jen Cohen presented “Calypso Consulting,” which offers steel drum percussion instruction as a form of team-building, promoting wellness and engagement for workplace professionals.
Linda Bryant presented “Debutante Web Design,” a company offering consultation and services in web design, e-commerce, email marketing, print design, social media, blog ghostwriting, web maintenance and web instruction, according to their website.
Ron Pulcer presented “C Major Improvement,” an online hub for interactive guitar and music lessons and connecting with other local musicians for long-term improvement and retention.
Devon Karpak ended the presentation with his “X_University,” aimed at uniting colleges, universities and students in an interlinked system that would allow students to take courses at whichever colleges they choose, or whichever had room for them, expanding their opportunities past the confines of a traditional classroom in a single higher-level institution.
“We want to change the way Americans can access education,” Karpak said of X_University.
After each of the strictly timed, 7-minute presentations, the riders were given 8 minutes to respond to the proposals.
“I’m in higher ed,” one audience member said to Karpak in the question-and-answer session: “Why should we listen to you?”
He responded by referencing the new “sharing” model of constant communication, engagement and collaborative learning.
“The sharing economy is a stripped-down version of taxi services,” Karpak said.
After the presentations were finished, the riders submitted their “rider’s choice” ballots and nonriders submitted “peoples’ choice” award ballots, voting for the presentation they thought most deserving of the top prize. One winner for each category would receive $500 toward their project, in addition to the $100 People’s United Bank awarded to each of the presenters, and a chance to compete at the state competition for entrepreneurs this fall.
While the votes were counted and the presenters wrung their hands, the Rutland Robo-Rattlers assumed the stage to showcase their own technology in a comedic skit that took the team to the Robo-Rattler’s World Finals in Detroit this past spring: the H2Show, which the group said is available for sale for $99.
The H2Show is a system of interconnected water meters that can be viewed and tracked at any time with any device connected to the internet, to better monitor water consumption and cut down on water waste.
“It’s like a FitBit for your faucet!” one member of the group said.
Once Rutland’s proud Rattlers exited the stage, McCalla announced the 2018 winners:
“Local Captures” was awarded the Rider’s Choice prize, and “X_University” was chosen as the peoples’ favorite.
“This all started two years ago as a capstone project for my master’s (degree),” said Karpak, who works as a full-time career and tech-ed teacher. “I just wanted to continue to help people get what they need to survive. You need education in-person and online.”
Karpak said the $500 will be put toward a beta test in the spring, when he’ll launch the program in three to six schools.
“I want to see this in as many Vermont schools as possible,” Karpak said.
McCalla said there are seven local pitchers, including the five that presented at the Road Pitch on Wednesday, all of whom will represent Rutland at the Champlain Mini Maker Faire in September.
Tyler Richardson, executive director for Rutland Economic Development Corp., said he’s impressed with the progress The MINT Makerspace has made in just one year of operation, including providing an incubation space for people like Karpak and Gossieaux.
“This is a place where everything starts,” Richardson said. “Supporting entrepreneurs is big in Rutland.”
Richardson said he hopes the businesses grow and stay in the city, where organizations such as REDC, and the Center for Women in Enterprise will be there to support them as they grow.
“They can be successful right here,” Richardson said. “We want to help them build relationships and access all the resources available. We want them to know they’re not on their own.”