Three to five contestants will compete for $50,000 during a real-life tournament, based on the popular TV reality series. The event will culminate on March 30, when triumphant entries receive venture capital to transform their company concepts or nascent business models into life-changing, successful enterprises.
“Thanks to generous sponsors, VenturePitch SWFL will offer the winning startups $50,000 in equity investments,” said Timothy Cartwright, chairman of Naples-based Tamiami Angel Funds.
Entrepreneurs from Charlotte, DeSoto, Lee and Sarasota counties can submit their startup business plans to VenturePitch SWFL at www.tamiami-e.co. The deadline to submit a plan is Feb. 15 and the event is scheduled from 5:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. March 30, at Isles Yacht Club, 1780 W. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda.
The VenturePitch SWFL series is part of the Tamiami Angel Funds’ e.co initiative to build a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem from Sarasota to Naples. Modeled after the “Shark Tank” television show, entrepreneurs make a brief pitch to seasoned investors on stage in front of an audience.
Sponsors of the fast-paced event in March include SunNewspapers, The Hatchery at Babcock Ranch, North Port Economic Development Corporation, Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, Tamiami Angel Funds and Adrenaline Venture Fund.
This will be the first time the event takes place in Charlotte County.
“The reason our newspaper decided to bring this event to our area of Florida is because we wanted our young people to hear the message that they don’t need to leave town to start their dream business,” said David Dunn-Rankin, CEO of the Sun Coast Media Group which owns Sun newspapers in Charlotte, DeSoto and Sarasota counties. “It’s time we support our homegrown entrepreneurs and our newspaper decided to put money where our mouth is.”
The Sun partnered with Babcock Ranch because they are building the most technologically advanced city in the nation, he said, including a Hatchery to house entrepreneurs with ideas. Babcock Ranch President Rick Severance said the winner will receive one year of free space in the Hatchery.
“We see the benefits of sponsoring this new business platform,” he said. “We want to keep that entrepreneurship here.”
And Severance hopes to host the event at Babcock Ranch next year, when the Hatchery is up and running.
“It will be a place to share ideas and passions in a collaborative environment,” he said.
SCORE volunteers will select the finalists to pitch their ideas on March 30. SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship.
“We’ve got a lot of business experience in our group,” saidSCORE’s Jim Getz, chair of the screening committee.
He said the Shark Tank-style competition shares the same goal.
“It’s an excellent idea. It will be a lot of fun and give entrepreneurs exposure to major capital,” Getz said.
Punta Gorda Chamber President John Wright also promotes a common purpose. “The Punta Gorda Chamber is delighted to be a part of this great, new initiative, especially as it focuses on entrepreneurial spirit that is so key to the chamber’s heart,” he said.
“We have operated several Entrepreneurial Academies in recent years, and this event just adds excitement tosearching out new entrepreneurs in our area.”
North Port is getting into the act as well. The private North Port Economic Development Corporation will raise $5,000 for the top company from the North Port area.
“The focus is not just on the award winners,” said Peter Bartolotta of the North Port EDC. “The important thing is we’re bringing people to the table who are willing to invest. Economic development is all about relationships.”
The North Port EDC supports business interests to diversify the local economyand build up the tax base for a city of more than 60,000 residents, and growing. A recent example was its advocacy role in bringing to North Port the Suncoast Technical College, now under construction. This facility will further the mission of providing a trained workforce far into the future.
“I think the timing for this event is perfect. There’s other ways to make a living today than to work for a company for the next 30 years. The world is changing,” Bartolotta said.
“North Port is a community that believes in a future filled with possibilities. A city whereyou can achieve anything.”
Also with the North Port EDC, David Dignam said the event promises to be mustsee reality, with the contest bringing out the best in the community.
“You don’t know what ideas are out in the community,” he said. “This event will stir folks, young and old, who have been sitting on an idea or an app.
They can say, ‘Now I have a venue to launch my program.’ I’m excited to see what comes out. We may just have the next widget of the world.”