Sales pitch contest a big night for aspiring local entrepreneurs

By Steve Urbon

NEW BEDFORD — It was semi-chaos Thursday evening in the basement cafeteria of the Global Learning Charter Public School as about two dozen budding entrepreneurs and their families and supporters joined in a “pitch contest” sponsored by EforAll, a Lowell-based organization whose goal is to nurture entrepreneurs in the smaller cities of Massachusetts.

Before the evening was through, a half dozen people had made their sales pitches, a few fortunate winners had been awarded substantial checks for their efforts, and a huge gesture had been made in support of Homeless Advocates, a local group looking after the homeless in SouthCoast.

Matt Medeiros of New Bedford was the grand prize winner of $1,000 for his concept of a “local coders” organization, which matches fledgling web and mobile app designers with small businesses and cash-strapped nonprofits who otherwise cannot afford to hire agencies to do all the work.

The problem, Medeiros said, is that businessmen like himself have trouble finding web designers and mobile application designers locally because as soon as they learn the skills they are off to Boston, New York or San Francisco, creating local scarcity and higher costs.

“We solve this problem by connecting people who want to learn how to build website and mobile apps with nonprofits who don’t have the money to do it. Participants learn from mentors from the SouthCoast area.

Seconds after Medeiros had his picture taken with the oversized check, he reached out to Peter Costa of the Homeless Advocates and said simply, “This is a donation to you,” drawing cheers from the gathering.

The EforAll pitch contests, similar to the “Shark Tank” reality TV shows, are becoming a regular event in New Bedford, Fall River, Lowell, and other “gateway cities.” They bring together people with ideas or small businesses that can be started with very little money but a lot of mentoring and coaching by volunteers who guide novices through the details of getting a business up and running.

The pitch contests enable participants to hone their sales skills as finalists get two-and-half minutes to sell their concept to a panel of judges, some local, some from EforAll. Contestants bring whatever they can to illustrate their concept or invention, and everybody takes some time to circulate around the room, grab a slice of pizza, and get to know fellow entrepreneurs through a little networking.

Twenty applicants were whittled down to a half dozen for the final pitches, with substantial prizes for those who top the final list: $1,000 for the grand prize, $750 for second place, $500 for third, $500 for a “wild card” and $500 for the people’s choice award.

Nic Cortes of Fall River won the wildcard for his concept of heated driveways.

Third place went to Homeless Advocates, a $500 people’s choice went to Hanna Walsh of New Bedford for a foot therapy ball for people suffering from afflictions like diabetes, and second place went to Anthony Markey of New Bedford for a system to providing college textbooks affordably in an on-campus exchange.

Follow Steve Urbon on Twitter @SteveUrbonSCT.

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