HARTFORD, CT — Think Shark Tank. Nervous entrepreneurs pitch their beloved business plans to steely-eyed judges, fielding tough questions and possibly leaving with funds to carry their dream forward.
The crowd Thursday night at reSET’s “Flight Night” was smaller, though, and the judges’ comments, while pointed, were generally kind.
“The idea is to give people a pre-pitch opportunity,” said David Menard, a partner at Murtha Cullina, one of the event’s sponsors. “For some people it’s their first time speaking in public and their voices shake. We consider that a success — we are building up the ecosystem and providing community and support.”
reSET is the Social Enterprise Trust, which is a non-profit with a mission of advancing the social enterprise sector. The group helped push through a bill allowing the creation of Benefit Corporations in Connecticut in 2014 as part of their effort to foster growth in social enterprises.
There have been nearly 10 previous “Flight Nights,” co-sponsored by reSET, at which all are welcome to pitch their plans for small cash prizes and constructive advice. Nearly 60 people turned out to watch seven pitches, ranging from software applications to address insurance costs, to individual writers, to a new alternative food for fish farmers to use at sea.
Judges Menard and Guilaine Menefee, Executive Director of the Black Business Alliance, offered feedback designed to inform all contestants and the audience.
“I am a small business owner myself,” Menefee said. “One thing different about being an entrepreneur is a sense of community. If you don’t know the answer, someone will help you out. So — take advantage of what you have here in this room!”
Menard told competitors that they are having a positive impact even beyond their own business. “You are doing everything you can to make our state better,” he said. “We can show people the value of their own business — and show others, inside and outside of Connecticut, too.”
Two of the competitors each left the event with $300. The judges selected Jennifer and Ray Smithberger, a couple from Canton, for “seedership” — a social impact and storytelling platform for businesses to track and report the value of their contributions. The audience selected Marina Marmolejo’s Dream Kit, an app for homeless youth to track activities and help them work toward housing, employment, and other positive outcomes.
Both Renard and Sarah Bodley, reSET’s Managing Director, said that overall the climate in Connecticut for entrepreneurs has improved significantly in recent years. In addition to reSET, Hartford now has three other business accelerators, each focused on a different industry. reSET also offers a four-month training for entrepreneurs, culminating in a more focused pitch meeting with much larger cash prizes.
Many businesses have been created as a result, Bodley said, including Blue Earth Compost, recently in the news as it expands, and Asarasi, which bottles water reclaimed from the maple syrup production process and is now shipping its wares around the world.
Two more events are coming up in October and November — an Accelerator Info Session and Beyond Business As Usual – Impact Investing. For more information, visit reSETco.org.