Area entrepreneurs earn seed money, experience at pitch contest

NEW ALBANY, IN (November 22, 2023) – The tension was palpable as entrepreneurial finalists gathered Saturday at the Next Big Thing Pitch Contest at Indiana University Southeast. The inaugural event capped a week-long list of activities in southern Indiana as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

In total, eight local entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to a group of judges, vying for seed money, space at Novaparke Innovation & Technology Campus, membership to Maker 13, and scholarships to Indiana University Southeast. Sponsors included Indiana University Southeast and the IU Southeast School of Business and community partners including the Indiana Small Business Development Center, Novaparke Innovation & Technology Campus, Maker 13, The Main Street organizations, and Floyd County Library.

The event kicked off with encouragement from Chancellor Debbie Ford, from IU Southeast and Mike Fulkerson, business advisor and ecosystem navigator for the Indiana Small Business Development Center. “It’s not just about winning,” said Fulkerson, about the pitch contest objectives. “It’s about learning and developing partnerships along the way.”

First up were four finalists in the Community Fast Pitch competition. The Community Fast Pitch is for individuals or teams who have identified a problem to solve or customer need, have executed market research, and have a rough business plan; however, they have not identified or finalized a minimum viable product or service to offer. Products and solutions pitched included in-home art kits, addiction recovery services, cleaning solutions, and packaging and shipping solutions.

While the judges ranked the placement of the Fast Pitch competitors, Chris Gilbert, owner, founder, and president of Security Pros, LLC, gave advice to the participants on how to “fail forward” when developing their pitch and company. “First, lead with your story,” said Gilbert. “People will believe in your product if they know your story and believe in you.”

Gilbert told of his journey from working at a Circuit City in high school to starting and owning a successful security company with two locations in Indiana. His was a journey 25 years in the making, learning from his upbringing on the family farm to working for two of the largest national security companies in the country. “You’ll need space to fail safely and people to support you in your journey,” said Gilbert. “Above all, concentrate on you and your business and you can change the world.”

Following the judge’s break, the Community Pitch Tank competitors took the stage. The Community Pitch Tank is for individuals or teams who have a completed business plan and have identified a specific minimum viable product or service to offer. Products and business concepts pitched included an autobody repair tool, a healthy option bakery, a veterinary records-sharing service, and an online educational platform to teach entrepreneurship. The Pitch Tank competition ended with two first-place winners.

Winners of the event included:

Community Fast Pitch

First Place (pictured below): CAAT Technologies, Anthony Thompson, Alexander Couch, Austin Walden, and Christy Vanderpool. $2,000 and a $500 scholarship to IU Southeast.


Second Place: Project 369 Recovery, Johnathan Goble Daulton.  $1,000 and a $500 scholarship to IU Southeast.

Third Place: Red Headed Princess Designs and Wholly Rustic Crafts, Ericka Johnson. $750 and a $500 scholarship to IU Southeast.

Fourth Place: Helping Hands Cleaning, Jada Clark. $500 and a $500 scholarship to IU Southeast.

Community Pitch Tank

First Place (pictured below) (tie): Craftech Innovations, Andrew Godfried and Tony White. $5,000, plus 1-year of development space at NovaParke and a $500 scholarship to IU Southeast.


First Place (pictured below) (tie): VetNexus, Stacey Konkle. $5,000, plus 1-year of development space at NovaParke and a $500 scholarship to IU Southeast.

Third Place: Royal Couture Treats Boutique, Minniequa Johnson. $2,500, plus 1-year membership to Maker 13 and a $500 scholarship to IU Southeast.

Fourth Place: NexTech, Connor Cummings. $1,500 plus a $500 scholarship to IU Southeast.

Judges of the competition included Don Lopp, Floyd County Director of Operations and County Planning, Allen Howie, Ideology and Lisa Russell, Associate Professor of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship Management at IU Southeast.

“The Next Big Thing Pitch was a great experience, and the presentations showed the quality of entrepreneurs in the region,” said Don Lopp. “We are very excited to be housing two ventures – VetNexus and Craftech at Novaparke as inaugural winners of the Next Big Thing and look forward to assisting them in their entrepreneurial journey.”


About IU Southeast:  IU Southeast is one of seven campuses of Indiana University. Offering more than 150 degree programs and concentrations, the scenic 180-acre campus is located less than 15 minutes from downtown Louisville, Kentucky. It currently has over 3,750 students and employs over 360 faculty members. About 400 students live on campus in five fully furnished, lodge-style residence halls. Through an agreement with the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Indiana University Southeast offers in-state tuition to students enrolled from eight counties in the Louisville region. IU Southeast has three nationally recognized, accredited schools including the School of Business, School of Education, and School of Nursing. For more information, visit IU Southeast is a tobacco-free campus. 


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