Rev Birmingham, also instrumental in Zyp’s bikeshare program and the Woodlawn street market, will host its 4th annual Big Pitch this November. But don’t worry, you still have time to enter! I interviewed Deon Gordon and Brian Bucher to find out more about Birmingham’s venture capital showdown.
The Big Pitch is a Birmingham-exclusive Shark Tank. Business owners looking to expand the scope of their business undergo management training, take advantage of resources such as accounting and graphic design, and finally present their proposals to a group of venture capitalists who will give away up to $40,000 to contestants!
Deon spoke with Alabama News Center last year, but for the life of me I can’t figure out how format this sentence into a caption
Deon Gordon, Rev Birmingham’s Director of Business Growth, knows that the Big Pitch works. Pointing to Birmingham business success stories such as Eugene’s Hot Chicken and Tropicaleo, he has seen why and how the Big Pitch is so successful. Deon had not yet joined Rev Birmingham when the Big Pitch first kicked off, but he has watched it grow for three years.
“We looked around at some of the biggest challenges that small businesses face. Trying to create sustainable businesses is a key pillar of our mission. So many of the challenges that [businesses] experience of course includes technical assistance and mentoring, but at the end of the day capital assets still stand out as one of the biggest hurdles. People need money to start businesses. Your average resident won’t necessarily be in the angel investment network. In order to create a city that is able to attract top talent, you have to address that quality of life aspect, and a lot of the way we can do that is through small business.” A city has to have more than just jobs in order to grow.
Lean startup methodology
A business tactic Deon encourages is to start as small as possible, then ramp up. It’s called the lean startup methodology. A growth cycle for a restaurant might, just like Eugene’s Hot Chicken, begin with pop-ups to refine recipes and pricing, before upgrading to a food truck to do the same tweaking on a larger scale, before moving into a permanent (and expensive!) building. “We try to make sure that [business pitchers] have not just the opportunity to get on stage and share their ideas, but that they will get value out of that experience even if they don’t win the financial prize.” Mentor matching, accounting assistance, graphic design, and more are available throughout the competition for nothing more than the entry fee. “When they get on stage, they’re a better-prepared candidate, even if they don’t win, they are a better-positioned entrepreneur. We can point to those who have gone on to grow and expand even if they did not win a prize.”
Rev Birmingham gives special consideration to startups which have undergone one of its two boot camps for small businesses. One boot camp helps entrepreneurs ask the right questions about their idea. The other, hosted by Create Birmingham, builds off the previous workshop and starts to test the answers to the questions asked in the first workshop.
Where the money comes from
PNC Bank has sponsored the Big Pitch since its inception. Brian Bucher, PNC’s Regional President and a Birmingham native, has seen the Big Pitch’s growth from the start.
“We first started working together with REVIVE, a program REV created to help catalyze economic activity over a matter of weeks with pop up shops, restaurants, and activities.” Because REVIVE made such an impact, there was no question of whether or not PNC would sponsor the Big Pitch. “We immediately asked to serve as presenting sponsor.”
Brian points to Baking Bandits as an example of the program’s success. Baking bandits “hosted a pop up shop during Revive, became a contestant for the Big Pitch and actually won the content in the first year. The owner has gone on to open an event space in Avondale and a restaurant on Second Avenue North.”
How to join
This year, Deon hopes that Rev Birmingham will be able to livestream the event on their website. In the past, only ticket holders were able to see the competition. This year, the AV company Rev Birmingham works with “are actually rolling out that feature… Even if the finalists are from Birmingham, they’re gonna have friends and family throughout. To give them the ability to participate in the process of the competition, I think that’d be a real cool and interactive way to go about it.” Right now, however, the only way to make sure you can see these future stars of Birmingham is to buy a ticket off the Big Pitch website. If you’re looking to enter your own business into the training program and take a shot at a chance for the $40,000 of prize money, you have until Thursday!