The SOAR team has spent many years working with the startup community. During this time, we’ve found that when it comes to starting a business, personal confidence can make all the difference between ideas and actions.
Some folks are naturally confident. For those who aren’t, it’s worth noting that confidence is a skill — one you can develop with practice.
Helping Eastern Kentucky entrepreneurs build confidence is one of the most important reasons why we host our annual Startup Appalachia Pitch Competition, presented by Community Trust Bancorp. If you’re a small business owner (or aspire to be one), this event provides you with an opportunity to refine your business plan, hone your presentation skills, and get your ideas in front of the local investor community.
Join us on June 15 at Morehead State University to hear from the 2023 finalists. Keep reading to discover the impact of participating in the Startup Appalachia Pitch Competition. You’ll uncover valuable insights from recent finalists and learn how they’ve leveraged cash prizes to move their businesses forward.
Past winners & finalists: Where are they now?
The following 2 founders are everyday people. They had an idea and decided to go all in. So can you.
We hope these stories inspire you to pursue your business plan and get involved in the startup community — whether you’re a first-time founder or an existing owner seeking growth.
Let’s hear from past pitch competition winners & participants. Where are they now, what did they gain from the experience, and how are their businesses doing?
SOAR spoke with the 2021 winner and a 2022 top 3 finalist for answers to these questions:
- 2021 Startup Appalachia Winner: Wall Eye Solutions, owned by Billy Brown. Wall Eye Solutions provides aesthetically-pleasing cable pass-through wall ports, currently sold via their website, Walmart, and Amazon.
- 2022 Startup Appalachia Top 3 Finalist: UpScore Test Prep, owned by Dr. Kyle Mann. UpScore Test Prep is a software-powered ACT test prep program aiming to level the playing field for college-bound students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.
How did winning/participating in the Startup Appalachia Pitch Competition impact your business?
Billy Brown, Owner, Wall Eye Solutions: We manufacture all of the parts we sell through the process of additive manufacturing. At the time of the competition, we had been looking very closely at bringing in a couple of higher-grade machines into our print shop to allow us to print with different types of materials and provide products for a different type of market, primarily other manufacturers in the area. The funds from the competition ended up covering the initial investment for two such machines and allowed us to make the move without taking away cash flow from the business, which we were just really starting to grow.
Dr. Kyle Mann, Owner, UpScore Test Prep: We used our award funding to improve UpScore Test Prep’s backend software that powers our engaging, affordable ACT test-prep platform.
Did the judges’ feedback have an impact on you? If so, what did you learn?
Billy: They taught me to believe in my idea. The feedback I received from the judges justified to me that my idea was legitimate and the thoughts I had on how big the business could grow to have merit. I think until I saw legitimate interest from the judges and the crowd, I still wondered if I saw my product differently than the rest of the world saw it, despite having sales that should have indicated the path I was taking was the correct one.
Kyle: Judges were available for mentorship long after the pitch competition. Monique Quarterman at the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development provided education and resources available in Kentucky for small businesses, Kelby Price at Keyhorse Capital provided an avenue for venture capital funding, and Molly Pyle provided resources available through the Center on Rural Innovation.
Tell us about any new products or services you’ve launched since winning the pitch competition.
Billy: I believe at the time of the competition, we were running twenty 3D printers and today we are setting at 41 machines counting the two we currently have on order. Our product line has grown substantially and continues to grow every time we have an additional customer request. I am still debating almost daily whether to jump to this full-time or continue to work a full-time job and run the shop in the evenings and on the weekend. I just feel like I am one big customer away from that dream becoming a reality.
Kyle: Since the pitch competition, I have further improved UpScore’s MVP (minimum viable product) and made the website and platform mobile-friendly. I am currently focused on onboarding students and prospecting schools and educational programs for partnerships.
What advice would you give to a founder considering applying for the next pitch competition? What would you do again, and what would you improve?
Billy: The best advice I would give someone is to be passionate about what you’re presenting. In my case, I still just felt like some people looked at the business like it was just a side hobby, but I just knew it could and should be so much more. The competition was the first real opportunity I had to get up in front of people and just talk about the product and the business and feel like there was a chance to legitimize everything. So, I guess I would say just be very prepared to talk about what you love to talk about anyway. Be ready to legitimize your idea!
Kyle: I am happy I participated in the pitch competition, and I would encourage anyone building a scalable business or creating an innovative product to apply. Participating in the pitch competition will connect you with numerous resources available to entrepreneurs in Kentucky. It will also help you further develop your skills as an advocate for your business and the problem you seek to solve.
What would you do again, and what would you improve?
Billy: I would definitely have a good slide show that shows your vision and go over the presentation enough that you can work your way through it even if nerves do start to creep in. Then one thing I would do to improve would be to not worry so much about a complicated prop and just show your product/business and tell your story. I spent a lot of time trying to come up with a way to demonstrate installing a Wall Eye on stage. When the time came, it just wasn’t practical. Because I had spent time on it and practiced with the install as part of my presentation, it definitely threw me off for a bit and brought nerves into the equation that may have not been there if that hadn’t happened
Resources to prepare a winning pitch presentation:
Want resources to build your confidence before getting on stage? SOAR recommends you complete the following 3 steps:
- Ensure you have a well-thought-through business plan. Refer to our guide to creating your own, or contact us about free direct services for Eastern Kentucky entrepreneurs.
- Develop financial projections that identify your expected profit outcomes. Here’s how to prepare your financial planning, budgeting, and reporting documents.
- Create a compelling, concise pitch presentation. You can follow a formula to create your winning pitch deck that tells your story and hooks the judges’ attention.
Check out our Complete Guide to Entrepreneurship in Eastern Kentucky to learn more.
Attend the Startup Appalachia Pitch Competition on June 15
While it’s too late to apply for this year’s Startup Appalachia Pitch Competition, presented by Community Trust Bancorp, interested folks should plan to attend, network, and learn from this year’s participants.
Finalists will compete on Thursday, June 15 at Morehead State University for a shot to win a $10,000 cash prize. Each finalist is guaranteed to take home $500. Join us for the opportunity to connect with fellow entrepreneurs and start getting your ideas ready for next year.