Beer Scout: Pitch for Pitchers

PITCHING IN: Josh Dorfman, Jordan Miller, Matt Popowski and Hadley Bergh (pictured from left to right) are hoping to build on their successful first event at Hi-Wire Brewing. Photo by Thom O'Hearn Photo by Thom O'Hearn

I’ll be the first to admit that here on the beer pages the news is usually fun. To the extent that it intersects with business news, it’s generally about crazy-fast brewery growth: Expansions, new locations and more jobs are the norm.

Yet to say the brewing industry here is typical would be a lie. It has nearly a 100 percent rate of success for its entrepreneurs.

As Asheville looks at potentially losing Moogfest, an event that some saw as the city’s best hope for attracting tech entrepreneurship, it’s doubly important to recognize and support initiatives in town that foster a better community for startups of all stripes. And, despite the fact that it’s so closely tied to the breweries in Asheville, Pitch for Pitchers is exactly such an event.

Starting small

Pitch for Pitchers was created by Jordan Miller, a UNC Asheville student; Matt Popowski, communications and marketing manager for the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce; Briar DeHaven, digital optimization specialist at the Asheville Citizen-Times; Josh Dorfman, director of entrepreneurship at Venture Asheville; and Hadley Bergh, a recent transplant from Chicago.

The premise is this: Up to seven people present their business ideas (which do not have to be related to beer or breweries in any way) and answer three questions about those ideas in one minute: 1) What’s the problem? 2) How does your product/service solve it? 3) Who is the customer?

Presentations are timed, and the minute limit is strictly enforced — if they don’t finish, they don’t finish — and each is followed by two minutes of quick-fire audience Q&A. After all the presenters wrap up, each audience member gets to vote for his or her three favorites. The winner receives $50 and a free pitcher of beer. The runners-up receive free pitchers.

While the whole idea might sound small, since nobody is receiving significant funding for their ideas, this is no local “Shark Tank” — Dismissing the event as insignificant misses the point, says Dorfman.

“Pitch for pitchers fits into our larger strategy of building a high-growth ecosystem,” says Dorfman. “We want to enable talented individuals and investors to find each other and get to know each other, and [this event does that through] the content we’re creating and the venues that are hosting, which are already cool places to meet up.”

In addition to fostering community among entrepreneurs and investors, there are other benefits to starting a small event series like Pitch for Pitchers. “We’re encouraging people to get up in front of a crowd and present their big idea,” says Dorfman. “That’s a skill that takes nurturing, development and some confidence. … It’s a steppingstone to what we view as getting to a place where one could consider pitching their idea to investors.”

The larger ecosystem

Dorfman says the tie to area breweries for this particular event is intentional. The breweries already act as a gathering place where people meet and share all sorts of ideas, and Dorfman says there is a clear benefit to connecting the event series to the strong entrepreneurial community we already have in brewing.

“Sure, we hope that people stay after the event and hang out and discuss ideas,” says Dorfman. “But the brewing community is also a terrific example of an entire local industry that shares resources, collaborates frequently and where each member [views it as a benefit] to have the whole industry grow and succeed here. … Tapping into that culture is a very positive thing for the startup community to do.”

As for the larger ecosystem of events, Dorfman sees Pitch for Pitchers filling a couple of needs: It’s the most informal of Venture Asheville’s event, and it’s held monthly in the evenings. Dorfman says Venture Asheville’s other events, both established and planned, are complementary: 1 Million Cups of Coffee is a weekly event series held in the morning, and Startup Weekend, which they hope to relaunch with another set of organizers, would happen twice a year (with the first event this fall).

The next Pitch for Pitchers event will take place Tuesday, Feb. 10, at Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium, 147 Coxe Ave. The website is www.pitchforpitchers.com, and the event page on Facebook, which will be updated for future events, is www.facebook.com/pitchavl.

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About Thom O'Hearn
Thom O’Hearn is a writer, book editor and homebrewer. Twitter: @thomohearn

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