TEXARKANA, Ark. — A sizable crowd of small-business hopefuls made their pitches to panels of judges Thursday at Crossties in downtown Texarkana.
Potential entrepreneurs at the inaugural Pitch It brought an idea and a dream in hopes of winning seed money for their businesses. The stakes were $5,000 for first place, $2,500 for second, and $1,000 for third.
The winners were 1st place, Jesse Darby-Tillis, Hypecon Events (sports gaming show); 2nd place, Ren Overlock, TAGN Inc. (ratchet tie-down straps with custom printed slogan “They Ain’t Going Nowhere”); 3rd place, Brittney Haynes, Evans Eco Exchange (zero waste refill store).
The event kicked off around 3 p.m., with the entrepreneurs going through preliminary rounds and refining their arguments. As the evening progressed, the finalists made their final pitches and the judges, all local business owners, made their final picks.
“We’ve been trying to put on this event for two years,” said Pitch It volunteer organizer Lesley Dukelow. “We’ve been delayed by COVID and other concerns, but here we are, finally doing it.
Pitch It is the brainchild of Leadership Texarkana’s Doing strategic initiative.
“The planning and schedule have changed over the past two years, although the mission has remained constant,” said event volunteer Judy Morgan.
“Imagine if Texarkana was a magnet for talent and entrepreneurship. The idea is to combat the brain drain that Texarkana has suffered. Imagine we were a place where talent and drive could find a home.”
“It’s often seen as a big industry abandoning an operation here as a driver of jobs and economic activity,” said Ina McDowell, executive director of Main Street Texarkana. “But real entrepreneurial development comes from small businesses, from a small operator that has an idea. With this event, we wanted to give some of them a chance and an opportunity to help them get started.”
The other participants did not leave empty-handed. Chamber of Commerce representative Robin Bass said the organization has assets to help small operators get started.
“We will help direct them to the local SBDC (Small Business Development Center) office,” she said. “They can help them prepare marketing materials and develop business plans, which most new businesses often need the most help with. All other resources, like digital and print marketing, we ( chamber) can help with connections. Also, local financial institutions that help with small business loans, we can also direct them there.”
Judge Olivia Hernandez knows what it’s like to be a hopeful entrepreneur.
“I’ve been in business for 15 years in this town,” said Hernandez, owner of Vero’s Latina store on New Boston Road with her sister, Veronica Hernandez. “I look at these business people, their plans, to see if they are solid. I look to see who they want to respond to, how they want to respond to the needs of this city, of young people, of family, of all of our communities. local.”
As for her own entrepreneurial journey, she has come a long way.
“I’m from Chicago, where stores like mine are on every block,” she said. “Here in Texarkana, it was unique. When I created it 15 years ago, there was nothing like it. He believed in us, renting us our property initially. He was so impressed with the way we were doing business that he helped finance the purchase of our building, which we now own. He trusted us after seeing how we worked.