Juxtaposing the live launch of RiverCity Foundry’s business ideas with the vicious nature of the reality TV show “Shark Tank,” cofounder Frank Braski described Thursday’s friendlier event as a “guppy tank.”
But the consequences still were serious.
Twenty-one entrepreneurs applied for the foundry’s eight-week summer startup accelerator boot camp, 10 were selected and eight made their 5-minute pitches to approximately 75 invited potential investors in a format Braski likened to speed dating. And it was standing-room-only in the presentation room at the Troy University-Phenix City Riverfront Campus.
One of the presenters was Katy Mallory, a 2001 Columbus High School graduate, who works in internal communications for Cox Automotive and lives in Decatur. Mallory and her mother, Lou Childs of Columbus, invented the SlumberPod, a patent-pending, portable “room-within-a room” for babies and toddlers so the whole family can get a good night’s sleep when traveling.
Mallory praised the RiverCity Foundry for pushing their concept to fruition.
“This has driven us to get our website done, to get a social media presence, to get a prototype made, to get a provisional file and an intent-to-use trademark filed,” she said. “A lot has happened in just a short amount of time.”
Although nobody handed her a check Thursday, at least not as of the L-E’s interview, Mallory was pleased with the initial response she received.
“A few people were stopping by and saying this is a great idea,” she said. “Looking out in the audience and seeing all the heads nodding, people obviously get it.”
That includes Mike Irvin, a financial planner with Integrated Financial Group of Columbus, who was among the possible investors in the audience. He called the SlumberPod “far and away the most interesting” of the eight pitched products.
“I took pictures of it and texted them back to my wife during the presentation,” he said. “I think that one has a lot of potential.”
In the bigger picture, this event was a win for the whole local area, Irvin said.
“We’ve had this kind of talent for a really long time,” he said. “But it takes the leadership of Frank Braski, the leadership of the Columbus chamber, all those people joining together, to really bring it to the forefront. … Like Frank said, if we can keep the opportunities here and not let them go elsewhere, that will be the biggest benefit.”
RiverCity Foundry is a public-private economic development partnership for the Chattahoochee Valley to create startup businesses and sustainable jobs for the region. It was established this summer in response to the Regional Prosperity Initiative, which seeks to strengthen the Columbus area’s economic competitiveness.
Cofounded by Braski and David Hehman, the foundry has received support from individual sponsors and organization such as Troy University, Columbus Technical College, small-business mentor SCORE, Alabama Power, the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, the Phenix City Chamber of Commerce, the Phenix City Board of Economic Development and the River Valley Commission, as well as another venture Braski and Hehman cofounded, ColumbusMakesIT!, a creativity and entrepreneurship center.
The next startup accelerator sessions will be in November, Braski said. To participate or help, visit RiverCityFoundry.com.