Five area entrepreneurs received their moment in the spotlight as they pitched their burgeoning businesses to a panel of expert judges and a packed crowd at Coastal Creative.
The event space and production studio’s 810-square-foot LED screen prominently displayed their investor decks at St. Pete Pitch Night. The Tuesday (Dec. 12) event, jointly presented by the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and St. Pete Greenhouse, celebrated the city’s entrepreneurial spirit.
After the event, Chamber president Chris Steinocher said the biannual Pitch Night provides a glimpse into the city’s future. He believes St. Petersburg can become “the best place on earth” by fostering the next generation of business leaders.
“To me, Pitch Night is a manifestation of everything that the chamber and the city are trying to do for this community,” Steinocher said. “It allows people who have the newest ideas to be seen by our community, to be embraced by our community and to be cheered on by our community.”
Those opportunities increased significantly after inclement weather postponed November’s Good ‘Burger Awards. Pitch Night preceded the popular celebration of local organizations and people, and the combined events drew over 600 people.
Steinocher explained that the “mashup” also provided a glimpse of the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Attendees heard from fledgling startups seeking seed funding before watching homegrown companies like Kahwa Coffee receive awards after completing the same journey.
“It just shows you that these companies come out of the ground here in our community and continuously make an impact,” Steinocher added. “It was one of those moments where you get to see from the very beginning to what happens after you get a lot of community support. It’s just a neat feeling.”
While St. Pete Pitch Night is a friendly competition, it is still a competition with a $5,000 grand prize. Attendees also voted on a $500 audience choice award.
The five entrepreneurs had six minutes to present their best pitch, followed by a question-and-answer session with four local business leaders. Johnny Saye, co-founder of FedScribe AI, took home the top prize.
St. Petersburg-based FedScribe utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) to help customers write government contract proposals. Saye said federal agencies dedicate 15% of $6.7 trillion in annual project spending to small businesses.
However, he noted it takes about six weeks to write a proposal with a “tiny chance of winning.” Saye and his cofounders trained an open-source AI program with government templates to “level the playing field” for small businesses.
“We can take that six weeks and turn it into two hours,” Saye added. “I know because we did it for ourselves.”
Troy Jones founded Hairlines to provide accessible hair care for the disabled community. He noticed the need several years ago when working in a group home.
Jones later opened a barber shop and realized transportation and mobility difficulties prevented many people from leaving their homes or healthcare facilities. He then launched an on-demand marketplace app that provides in-home hairstyling for people with disabilities, the elderly and busy professionals.
“I went from brick-and-mortar to click and order,” Jones said.
The remaining finalists
- Numa Notes: St. Pete resident Cole Smith created an AI-empowered note-taking platform for therapists. According to its website, Numa Notes can save behavioral health professionals 12,000 minutes or patients $30,000 in billable hours annually.
- Fractio: St. Pete native Fatin Kwasny launched Fractio to connect startups with on-demand experts. According to its website, the monthly subscription service helps customers achieve “equity-free accelerated growth.”
- Axees: Max Gallardo founded the St. Petersburg-based startup in 2019 to match social media influencers with brands. According to its website, Axees “automates the entire process of a marketing agency.”