More than 100 potential investors packed into Hi-Wire Brewing’s event space Nov. 10 to hear pitches from Western North Carolina small-business owners looking to raise capital for their enterprises. The diverse gathering at nonprofit Mountain BizWorks’ Mountain Raise, ranging from boomers to millennials, cheered and applauded the ideas and success-to-date stories of the local companies. More than 50 people also tuned into a livestream of the event.
“This is such a great community in Asheville,” said founder Steph Prime, co-founder with husband Brandon of Cardstalk, an on-demand greeting card company that sells cards with artwork by local artists through kiosks in retail stores. Their first kiosk recently went up in Earth Fare at Westgate, and the Primes were seeking support from investors to fill more Earth Fare locations. Prime said she appreciated Asheville’s commitment to sustainability and supporting local businesses, as evidenced by the cheering that went up at every mention of “green” products.
Five WNC entrepreneurs presented seven-minute pitches designed to gauge interest from local investors. Taking advantage of a new rule, passed in March by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, that allows for a public “testing the waters” phase before launching an official round of funding, the pitches were aimed at “collecting reservations of interest,” said Will McGuire, chief crowdfunding officer of Incolo, a Raleigh-based crowdfunding consultancy that had worked with several of the local firms.
“We train founders to tap into their crowd and train the community about how this exists,” he said. “Up until 2016, you couldn’t invest in a company unless you were an accredited investor [generally banks, loan companies, governments and wealthy individuals]. Now you can get in with as little as $1 sometimes.”
Other business owners pitching at the event included Banner Elk-based GreenLife Tech founder Bruce Roesner, showing off a countertop contraption that keeps fruits and vegetables fresh for more than 30 days. The entrepreneur said he was impressed with the turnout. “Good diversity here,” he said. “And I was taken by how everyone was really paying attention.”
North Cove Leisure Club founder Luke Peniston shared his outdoor-focused business being built in the northern tip of McDowell County, which he hopes will be the “largest outdoor entertainment venue in the world.” Spectra3D Technologies founder Steven Schain boasted about his Asheville company’s 3D printing capabilities for industrial applications, while Boone-based SteakAger founder Scott Kobryn showed off his multifaceted backyard Wildfyre Grill.
While the other founders at the event had graduated from one of the small-business programs offered by Mountain BizWorks, a surprise pitch came from Raleigh entrepreneur Johnny Hackett, who got a huge response to his proposal to expand his Black Friday Market into the Asheville retail scene. The marketplace, currently open in downtown Raleigh, provides space for Black crafters and artists to sell their wares in a “department store-like setting,” Hackett said. His goal is to raise $650,000 to open five more stores throughout the state.
Hackett noted that Asheville businesses can sign up to be listed on #BlackDollarNC, a directory he founded that serves as a reference for Black-owned businesses in the state. The website currently lists Black-owned coffeeshop Grind AVL as its only Asheville entry.
And hoping to tap into what he called the “silver tsunami,” Mountain BizWorks Executive Director Matt Raker announced the grand opening of the nonprofit’s Market Advisors subsidiary. The new initiative is designed to help business founders valuate and sell their firms as they prepare to retire or move on to other ventures. Buyers interested in purchasing a business also will receive guidance.
Raker announced that Chris Grasinger, an experienced lender with Mountain BizWorks, will head the new group as its director. Forms for expressing interest in Market Advisors services are now live on the Mountain BizWorks website at avl.mx/atj.