Dreams on the line: local entrepreneurs show visions at pitch competition

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Thursday, November 15, 2012 - 11:52pm

Local entrepreneurs put their dreams on the line Thursday night, in front of a large crowd and some of the most successful businessmen in Baton Rouge.

SeNSE hosted "Pitch Night" at L'Auberge Casino & Hotel as part of Baton Rouge Entrepreneurship Week 2012.

"This is truly the creative capitol of the South," said Carl Herrick, who sits on the board of directors for SeNSE. "So entrepreneurs are getting to have a voice this week."

Five small businesses based in Baton Rouge or New Orleans took the stage in front of 400 audience members and four high-profile investors: Todd Graves, founder of Raising Cane's; Mike Wampold, a real estate developer; Ken Jacob, CEO of Cajun industries; and Kevin Couhig, CEO of Source Capital.

The entrepreneurs pitched their companies, looking for the investment that might help them grow and thrive. But trying to convince the investors to buy into their ideas made them sweat.

"Yeah, I'm pretty nervous," said Speed Bancroft, CEO of The Outdoor Shopper, before his presentation. "I mean, I'm trying to hide it, but how can you not be nervous in this situation."

They came with ideas as diverse as stem cell research, televised shopping for outdoor equipment, and wine-infused whipped cream.

While each wanted to sell part of his/her business to the investors, they said relationships and expertise would be just as important as cash.

"I think all of them are great," said Cassie Jo Gonzales of Whipsy, "and we're really excited about Todd Graves. He's in the food industry."

And the founder of Raising Cane's liked what he saw and tasted from the alcoholic whipped cream. He and the team agreed in principle to buy 20 percent of the company for $200K.

In additional to earning capital, "this is an opportunity for them to practice," Herrick said, "because they'll be pitching for even bigger numbers. Maybe in New York, maybe in LA, at some point."

"When you're under the gun, when you have a lot of pressure on you, you learn very fast," agreed Bancroft. "Sink or swim."

And the nerves disappeared quickly for those who received a life raft from the investors.

"This is a blessing," Gonzales said. "Yeah, it is. It's amazing that we're here, and we're really excited to be a part of it."

The competition allowed the entrepreneurs a chance to network with each other and talk about the difficulties of starting small businesses.

"For the last two weeks," Bancroft said, "I've been sitting down with the other presenters, and watching what they're doing, learning, trying to better myself."

For those in the business community, the large number of entrepreneurs here is no surprise.

"Because people in Louisiana know how to live big," Herrick said. "We work hard and we play hard. And we're so creative; food, music, business."

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