It is not even 8:30am and most attendees at the Western Mass Business Expo breakfast are still fiddling with their scrambled eggs, bacon, and honey dew melon, as guest speaker Jim Koch takes the podium and cracks his first beer. There are, however, no gasps of horror or raised eyebrows because Jim is a proven entrepreneur and founder of the Boston Beer Company – maker of Samuel Adams Lager and a host of other delightful brews. In fact, this is one of those rare occasions when the largely chamber of commerce crowd wishes they could do likewise before returning to their everyday routines.
It was not intentional, but Jim set the stage for another significant entrepreneurial event that would happen later in the day – the GCAi organized and sponsored (okay – there were a few others J) Valley Venture Mentors Pitch Contest for cash prizes. Valley Venture Mentors (VVM) plays a key role in the regional the entrepreneurial ecosystem through its mentoring program and GCAi fuels amplification of their work for free. The Pitch Contest, like the GCAi organized entrepreneurial ecosystem tour of last Spring, was a first of its kind for the area. Ten VVM startups were selected to compete for $3,000 in prizes in front of a judging panel of proven entrepreneurs. Under the pressure of the clock, they had just two minutes to make their case and then received feedback from the judges. There was stress, glitches, stumbles, brilliance, and then winners. The crack GCAi team running the backroom of the event even put together an instantaneous online poll which allowed the audience – in this case a very wide audience – to pick the “crowd favorite” winner.
And the winners were:
1st Place $1500 – Voncierge, a wedding planning website that lets brides search and book appointments online with vendors.
2nd Place $750 – Celia Grace, a venture dedicated providing today’s growing population of “green brides” with bridal gowns that are sustainable without sacrifice.
3rd Place $500- PeopleHedge, a company which allows customers to easily lock in foreign exchange rates into the future via the web.
Audience Favorite $500 – Kloudbook, an online network which allows users to get and store friends’ contact information.
Thanks to all the other sponsors including, BusinessWest, Valley Venture Mentors, Nicolai Law Group, P.C., Ann Burke and the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, Kevin and Michael Vann of the Vann Group, LLC., and Business Growth Center at Springfield Technology Park.