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At 'Pitch Night,' success and struggle at stake for local startups

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POSTED: Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 5:00am

UPDATED: Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 5:04am

Imagine having just five minutes to realize your dreams, years of hard work coming down to a quick chance to convince someone else you have the right idea and the skill to profit from it.

For the future business leaders of Baton Rouge, that's what a competition like SeNSE Pitch Night is all about.

"A lot of good ideas out there," Neil Mason said, "but it's about finding the good talent behind them."

Four local business owners stepped onto a stage Wednesday night at the Hilton downtown. Their goal was to convince a group of investors that they had the right combination of people and product. Pitch Night adds flair and drama to the world of venture capital.

"This has been a big night, and we've been waiting... this has been a long time coming," said Jason Tate, co-founder of Pixel Dash Studios.

SeNSE Pitch Night puts up-and-coming businesses in the same room with some of the biggest players in the local economy.

This year, the businesses selected to present were: Pixel Dash, which designs video games; Indie Plate, which delivers local produce to subscribers' doorsteps; Deluxe Temple Extensions, which provides high-end hair extensions; and TRUE-See Systems, a medical imaging company.

Five investors critiqued their business plans, with the option to invest their own money: Mason, from InventureWorks; Eiad Asbahi, from Prescience Investment Group; Bill Borne, from Amedisys Home Health & Hospice Care; Mark Graffagnini, from Graffagnini & Associates; and Ken Jacob, from Cajun Industries.

Pitch Night is a rare opportunity to jump-start a company.

"When I got started, I thought it would come together a lot quicker than it did," Tate admitted. "But it was a long process, but it was very rewarding."

"This money will really help us expand," said Paritosh Sharma, founder of Indie Plate. "Everything until now has been grassroots. With some marketing, I really think we can expand a lot more."

Along with the cash, there was a wealth of knowledge in the room. Entrepreneurs often struggle on their own to get a business going, or do not know where to turn to get the right advice.

"For a company like Indie Plate, which serves food, which basically touches every person in this world it's a great opportunity to meet the customers, investors, as well as network with people who have a lot of business experience," Sharma stated.

Most of the time, a presentation such as this happens in a board room, not in front of an audience of hundreds. But if an entrepreneur has the talent to conquer his/her anxiety, s/he might just be able to start the next big business.

"It's a great opportunity. Any time you can get exposure and get in front of people that are good decision-makers, magic can always happen," Mason said.

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