Conway Turns Out Big for G60 Pitch Contest, Won by Refurrl

Hometown startup Refurrl won the Gone in 60 Seconds elevator pitch contest Tuesday night in Conway, but it wasn't the only winner.

Refurrl, which has developed a method of buying and selling products through social media, is a participating firm in the ARK Challenge business accelerator in Fayetteville and is considered one of the state's up-and-coming startups. It took home a $1,000 cash prize and plenty of exposure for winning.

(Video: Click here to watch video of Tuesday's night's event.)

But perhaps the big winner was Conway itself, which drew 25 presenters to this eighth installment of the event and a packed house to hear them at Michaelangelo's downtown.

G60 events have been held in Fayetteville (twice), Rogers (twice), Fort Smith, Little Rock and El Dorado. Future stops tentatively are planned for Jonesboro and Texarkana.

G60 is the brainchild of Innovate Arkansas advisor Jeff Amerine, who said the Conway event "blew the roof off the place." Amerine told the 200 or so who packed Michaelangelo's that the secret sauce to the growth of Arkansas' startup community is a willingness to help each other.

"Arkansas doesn't have to stand in line behind anybody anymore," he said.

The competition Tuesday night drew startups from across the state, but Conway startups swept the top three spots as determined by audience participation. Those in attendance texted their preference to a code provided by Little Rock mobile marketing firm Sumotext.

Other winners included second place Passenger Baggage Xpress ($500 prize) and third-place Conway Brewing Co. ($250).

"G60 pitch competitions are great for startups like Refurrl," said winning pitchman Zack Hill. "It helps us get our message in front of many potential customers and possible investors. Also, it provides much needed practice for actual elevator pitch situations." 

The Conway sweep of the top three spots, the turnout and number of hometown startups participating seemed to signal the city emerging from out of Little Rock's shadow as a startup and entrepreneurial hub.

Lee Watson of Conway digital media agency Clarovista helped organize the Conway G60 event, and is involved in the upcoming launch of Startup Arkansas. Watson believes Conway is coming into its own with events like G60, the successful Barcamp Conway events and upcoming Tedx events.

The success of these events statewide plus the inaugural Made by Few conference held earlier this spring in Little Rock make this an exciting time to be an entrepreneur in Arkansas, he said.  

"Events like these are great programming that bring the creative and technical communities together," he said. "It helps create the density needed to spur entrepreneurial activities, including high-growth potential startups. Soon you'll be hearing more about Startup Arkansas, meant to be the connective tissue in the startup ecosystem to connect people with programming and more throughout the state." 

Watson said business leaders are discovering that Arkansas can be a great place to launch a startup.

"Academia is listening. New curriculum for bio tech, mobile, and 'big data' are being added," he said. "Local economic development groups are asking 'How do we recruit? How do we build a startup scene?' It's a very exciting time, but there's still lots more to do. Stay tuned to Startup Arkansas." 

Conway pitches ranged from experienced entrepreneurs to college students pitching ideas off the street.

Pitches included Boeckmann Decoys and a very realistic turkey decoy; Luke Irvin's Depart, an app that enables one to book flights much quicker and cheaper; Keith Hoelzeman's, a "high-end confectionary" ordering service; and a pitch for Mother's Operating System by Elizabeth Banko, wife of St. Vincent Health CEO Peter Banko.

Her startup has developed a web-based scheduling system "integrated with community and school agencies to produce a single, paperless events schedule for parents."