Early-Stage Startups Shine at AVC's Pre-Flight Pitch Day

Early-Stage Startups Shine at AVC's Pre-Flight Pitch Day
Leah Patterson and Bryan Smith, co-founders of Little Rock's Move Makeup, listen as AVC mentors John Murdock (left) and James Hendren provide feedback at the inaugural Pre-Flight program Pitch Day. (Lukas Deem, RetroCat Media)

The Arkansas Venture Center introduced its first class of Pre-Flight graduates Tuesday night with promising, early-stage startups pitching ideas developed over the course of the 14-week, pre-accelerator program.

Pre-Flight is a program created by the Nashville Entrepreneur Center in 2011 and licensed this year by the AVC in Little Rock.

Tuesday's Pitch Day marked the culmination of 14 weeks of mentoring and entrepreneurial education in which 15 participating teams, most of which began with just an idea, were placed on a potential fast track to market.

Just six of those teams met all the requirements necessary to make it to Pitch Day:

  • Move Makeup, from Leah Patterson and Bryan Smith, a sweat-proof, all-natural cosmetics line for "women who sweat."
  • Pickup, from Buckley O'Mell and Ben Lavigne, an app and web interface that would help pickup basketball players find local games.
  • Leantoo Outfitters, from Jordan King, a peer-to-peer marketplace where campers would rent gear from other campers. King made it through the program to Pitch Day with an idea hatched at last fall's Startup Weekend Little Rock, but on Tuesday he announced he would not be moving forward with the idea.
  • GeronIQ, from Mike McGibbony, an alert system that would monitor the movements of the home-bound elderly targeted to home-care givers and family and aging forums.
  • Talentt, from Luke Irvin, a service that connects businesses to local freelancers. (It was soft launched earlier this year and was a finalist in the 2014 Donald W. Reynolds Governor's Cup business-plan competition.)
  • Merger Match, from Bridget Farris and Alese Stroud, a patent-pending system that would help companies assess the best potential acquisitions, measure what they're buying and how it fits. 

Mentors providing feedback to each startup on Tuesday night were AVC board member, former Accelerate Arkansas chair and Arkansas Systems co-founder James Hendren; Carole Smith, senior vice president with Simmons First National Bank; and John Murdock, director of education for the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and co-creator of the Pre-Flight program.

Murdock worked remotely with the Pre-Flight teams each week over the course of the program. Tuesday marked his fist time to see them explain their idea in person.

"The first time we launched this in Nashville, the presentations weren't this good," Murdock said. "Kudos to the teams. Seeing the teams present in person and present with such poise ... I'm proud of Arkansas."

Currently, Pre-Flight programs are exclusive to Nashville, Little Rock and the University of Tennessee at Martin, Murdock said.

AVC President Lee Watson stressed the early-stage, pre-investment nature of the startups that pitched on Tuesday, but beamed like a proud papa nonetheless.

"The quality of the ideas and the tenacity of the entrepreneurs who pitched were outstanding," he said. "I couldn't be more pleased. This is an important piece to the puzzle as we build a startup ecosystem in central Arkansas."

Watson noted how the AVC and its programs complement those offered by the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub and organizations like Innovate Arkansas, and can benefit the startups that will populate the planned Little Rock tech park downtown.

On Wednesday, Watson is scheduled to appear before a special meeting of the tech park board to discuss a proposal for the AVC to take over the former ARK Challenge space in downtown Little Rock.

That meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. from the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, from which the AVC currently operates. The AVC has proposed taking over the ARK space in the Block 2 building on East Markham across from the chamber, leased by the board, in exchange for services provided to tech park tenants. 

Meanwhile, the next Pre-Flight course will kick off Jan. 26 and will be the first of two or three Pre-Flight courses planned for 2015. A full run-down of AVC programs and services is available here.

Hendren, one of the state's true tech pioneers, said several of the startups that made it through the first run of the program are ready for market even without funding. He believes the Venture Center could become a tech park feeder.

"Pre-Flight demonstrates that," he said.