Eastern Kentucky is a hub for innovators, entrepreneurs, and small business owners. Take a road trip across the region and find small shops ran by local artisans, boutiques showcasing the latest trends, or restaurants serving meals made with farm-fresh ingredients. Yes, our people are risk takers and we’re proud of our businesses. But there’s some overarching problems every business in our region faces.
Big Hearts, Small Budgets
Maintaining a small business in a rural area can be a struggle. Employers need greater access to capital, more resources to build their business, and community support.
Luckily, here in eastern Kentucky, there are a myriad of resources and organizations that sustain and encourage business growth.
For example, Invest 606, a non-profit located in Williamsburg, Kentucky, has a mission to catalyze business growth in southern and eastern Kentucky by connecting entrepreneurs with the resources they need to succeed today and grow tomorrow.
Invest 606 hosts an annual Pitch Contest to showcase the ideas of entrepreneurs and stimulate further investment and development of their businesses. The 2021 Pitch Competition took place on April 17, 2021.
Invest 606 Pitch Competition Steps in to Help
SOAR Innovation, a collaboration between Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR) and the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development’s KY Innovation Office, serves as a catalyst for businesses and entrepreneurs throughout Appalachia Kentucky.
Clients of SOAR Innovation have the guidance and support of business experts while they develop or grow their idea – then they are connected to resources such as Invest 606 to take things to the next level.
The Pitch Contest, the Invest 606 Challenge, showcases the ideas of cohort entrepreneurs and stimulates further investment and development of their business. At the Pitch Contest, regional funders are on hand to see the potential for investment in these local businesses.
During the 2021 Invest 606 Challenge, three SOAR Innovation clients along with five other finalists took the stage to pitch their business idea for a chance to win over $28,500 in prize money.
Funding a New Beginning
The 2021 Invest 606 Cohort consisted of eight finalists who were ready to scale their businesses. But they needed money to do it. Invest 606 is working to create a vibrant eastern Kentucky where people enjoy living and working. A thriving small business community is an important aspect of that. The Pitch Contest is giving local entrepreneurs and the east Kentucky region the chance to succeed today and grow tomorrow.
2021’s 1st Place Winner was Kyle Robinson with Print My Threads. Robinson took home the grand prize of $15,000. The 2nd Place Winner was Raenae Moore with Community Treatment and Tracking Solutions (CTTS), who earned $7,500. The 3rd Place winner was Kazzi King with Velvet Whiskey Candle Co., winning $3,500. The Community Development Impact Award of $2,500 went to Casey Papendieck and Laura Gregory with Turtle Farm Pottery.
Three of the four winners of the 2021 Invest 606 Pitch Competition are clients of SOAR Innovation. Keep reading to learn more about their pitch and how the award money will transform their business:
Print My Threads | First Place Winner
Kyle Robinson grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The first time he screen printed a poster, he was in the fifth grade. Robinson says, “I still remember that experience and I still have the print.” While studying at the University of Hawaii, he joined the screen printing department and met his wife, who was from Ashland, Kentucky. Print My Threads was created in 2009, “I renovated a 400 square foot garage into a print studio,” says Robinson. Now Print My Threads is located in Flatwoods, Kentucky, in a solar powered building that was previously a roller rink.
Robinson’s pitch was based on building out version two of their online client portal. The client portal gives Print My Thread’s customers a better way to manage their orders and receive status updates as they progress from start to finish. When asked about what it meant to win the Pitch Contest, Robsinson responded, “Winning the Invest 606 pitch competition really validated all the hard work we’ve put in over the last 12 years.” Print My Threads is focused on creating living wage jobs in Eastern Kentucky. Robinson says “Our mantra is ‘make things better by making better things’. We pay a living wage and our employees also receive a quarterly profit share. This year we’re adding retirement benefits.”
In the next few years, Robinson hopes his business will be completely debt free and making around $3 million in annual revenue.
Community Treatment and Tracking Solutions (CTTS) | Second Place Winner
Raenae Moore worked at Laurel County Detention Center with the SAP program to help people receive substance abuse treatment. While she was there, she identified a problem; there was no reliable way to track a person’s progress while in Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) and bring that information back to the court.
That led her to create CTTS, a technology centered company combining best practices in rehabilitation and compliance. Its unique inexpensive smartphone app has achieved 100% employment and sobriety for graduates.
When asked about her pitch, Moore responded, “The business is about an app, but passion and the people behind it make it better.” In the beginning, only a couple of people were using the app, but now four different counties utilize Moore’s app and smartphone.
With more time and money, Moore will no doubt continue to help people across the region complete the terms of their substance abuse programs in a more efficient and effective way.
Turtle Farm Pottery | Community Development Impact Winner
Turtle Farm Pottery, located in the Red River Gorge area, began in April of 2019. When asked why he chose to start a business in eastern Kentucky, Casey Papendieck replied with, “Eastern Kentucky is the coolest place in the world.” Originally, he came here to rock climb and fell in love with the area. He describes his work as “chemistry and art rolled together… we’re using creativity to bring pottery to life.” This creativity has produced a wide variety of pottery, from mugs to bowls to pitchers and more.
Turtle Farm Pottery is a business focused on community engagement. Papendieck wants to be a place where people can learn to harness their own creativity. His pitch was based on a need for more equipment in order to expand pottery classes and build a bigger studio.
Eventually, Turtle Farms Pottery hopes to host workshops and classes as well as create an apprenticeship program.
Your Funds are One Pitch Away
Launching a business is an important milestone for an entrepreneur. However, an entrepreneurs job never stops. 29% of businesses fail because they run out of cash. Don’t let that happen to you.
The SOAR Innovation team is a dedicated, free resource for entrepreneurs in eastern Kentucky. They can walk with you through each step of improving your business, help you execute, and make recommendations based on their past experience as business owners.
Download the Complete Guide to Entrepreneurship in Eastern Kentucky now and never miss a funding opportunity again.