Road Pitch 2015: Entrepreneurs push ideas, seek guidance

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By Bryanna Allen  |  Correspondent.

There were three topics of discussion during the Road Pitch 2015 event at the Energy Innovation Center: tiny houses, funky wraps and granola.

The Road Pitch is an event wherein entrepreneurs and investors ride motorcycles around Vermont, seeking out small business owners to collaborate with and mentor.

The group of more than a dozen riders — along with local business owners — stopped by Rutland recently, where three local women showcased their business plans and products and spoke about areas where they each sought guidance.

And while financial help was definitely on that list, other forms of help were just as prominent.

Elizabeth Young, a senior at Castleton University, pitched a business plan called CozyHomes — tiny houses that make up communities for retirees and provide maintenance-free, affordable living.

All of the homes, Young explained, would be 700 square feet or less in size, and cost about $50 per square foot to build.

The owners of the homes would not have to shovel or plow. Each one has a price ranging from $50,000 to $65,000, based on the design and size.

“There is a high demand for smaller homes,” she said, “because people are downsizing after they retire, and Vermont has a large population of retirees.”

Young said the business plan started out as a class project, but now she wants to see it come to fruition, and she wants to see it done in Castleton.

She has been getting involved with the Castleton community to see if there is a need for such a project, and what she has found is encouraging.

“I’ve spoken to at least 15 people who would be on board, people who want to buy and own these houses,” she said.

Investors listened carefully to each pitch, taking notes to bring up in discussion later in the evening.

After Young’s thorough and mathematical map of her business plan and financial needs, a pitch of a completely different color took the stage.

Tricia O’Connor presented her Funky Wraps; accessory products for people with an active lifestyle.

The wraps are made from a soft cloth and have zippers and pockets to hold cellphones, credit cards and keys, to name a few. They wrap around the waist — like a fashionable fanny pack — or with straps similar to a backpack.

O’Connor is a long-distance runner, and said the wraps have survived all 26.2 miles of her marathons. “They’re versatile and ready to go,” she said with ample enthusiasm, tossing one to an audience member.

She said right now she can’t keep up with production alone, and is looking to expand and grow her business. “What I’m really looking for is a mentor who can help me break into the world of a sporting-goods store,” she said. “I’ve done the legwork with this product, I just need some help in other areas, because I’m a one-woman show and getting tired.”

For instance, she said, her website could use a boost, and she could use some education about marketing.

“It’s like training for a marathon,” she said. “You can do it, but if you’re trying to qualify for Boston, for the big leagues, you’re going to need someone to show you how.”

Jeremy Kent, owner of Budnitz Bicycles, asked if she wanted to keep her company in Vermont or expand nationally or even internationally.

“I think sending a Vermont product to China cheapens the idea of it,” she answered. “I’d like to expand, but keep it a true Vermont product.”

Right now, she sells at farmers’ markets and sporting events.

The last pitch of the evening was a local company called Granola on a Mission.

Mary Lamson sells her granola directly to customers, and is working her way into the commercial world.

A portion of her profits go toward a day camp in Nicaragua.

Lamson said she is looking for someone who has experience in developing food products, as well as funding, to further establish her ability to produce the product on a commercial level.

“My product is on a social mission,” she said. “People who buy it feel good about buying it. It’s also simple and delicious, with ingredients you can pronounce.”

To prove it, she passed around cups filled with samples of her currant and almond granola.

Investors talked with her about finances — something that Judy Robertson of Harvest Limited said you don’t really have to be great at to have a successful business.

“We’re all here to help you, to help each other out,” Robertson said.

Lamson said her goal was to be the Toms shoes of the food world.

“With your help,” she said, “I can do it.”

bryanna.allen@rutlandherald.com