Students share business ideas, earn $7,000 in start-up funding from TCL

The Technical College of the Lowcountry’s Perfect Pitch competition recently struck a chord with several TCL students and community members alike. Though the “pitch” involved here was not musical but entrepreneurial.

The competition, geared toward TCL students and alumni, allowed budding entrepreneurs to present their well-developed business plans to a diverse panel of judges to compete for valuable funding. Three participants were awarded a total of $7,000.

Business management student and winner Brent Hoffman, of Beaufort, was excited to receive funding to help him expand his DJ business, J Demonstr8 Mobile DJ Service. “The funding from this competition will help me branch out to a much wider area and put me in direct contact with my target audience,” he said. “Plus, it will lead to increased exposure to my brand and will generate hundreds of leads to follow up with.”

Erin Walker, whose winning pitch was for her Beaufort-based walking food tour company called “A Taste of the Lowcountry,” plans to use her award to expand marketing efforts through her website, advertising, and social media practices.

These “Perfect Pitches” were more than just wishful whims and brainstorming ideas, however.

Participants were required to present well-researched business plans that included a well-written proposal; a detailed description of the business concept with a management, product/service, and marketing plan; and estimated three-year financials. Competitors started the process months ago by attending workshops and seminars sponsored by groups such as SCORE, participating in TCL’s monthly Entrepreneurship Club meetings and even partnering with successful area entrepreneurs for mentoring.

“I was able to turn the business inside-out and focus on every piece of it and come up with a winning strategy to ensure success,” Hoffman said.

Port Royal resident and business student Jessica Starleigh, whose winning pitch was for her professional organizing service called “Fairy God Mama,” says the Perfect Pitch program was well worth the effort. “I have never worked so hard on anything in my life I don’t think,” she said. “But this competition has helped me gain more confidence as well as the seed money for my business.”

Business Instructor Candice Chastain says the extensive and demanding process has a very important goal: “The process makes the students truly evaluate whether or not the business is likely to be financially successful,” she said.

Walker, who is a 2014 TCL hospitality management graduate, echoes Chastain’s point. “The program taught me how crucial having a solid plan in place is to the success of the company,” she said. Walker also points to other benefits. “The entire process gave me great constructive criticism to build a better business,” she said.

Community members were also excited to get involved. Callawassie residents Tom and Susan Potrykus chose to invest in the initiative as it supports successful community entrepreneurism. “A healthy small business climate is what makes successful small towns, and the Perfect Pitch competition is all about being successful entrepreneurs,” he said.

Chastain agrees that the Perfect Pitch program is important to the local economy. “The more businesses we can assist grow, the more our programs here at TCL can directly contribute to growing and supporting the local economy,” she said. “This program certainly helps in supporting a well-educated local workforce that is prepared to succeed.”

This college and community support was definitely encouraging to the participants.

Walker says it’s this support specifically that was her favorite part. Her competitors agree. The panel and other guests present were so helpful in sharing their experiences and wisdom with us,” Starleigh said. “It was just an amazing experience and opportunity overall.”

“It means so much to me to know that the local community believes in what I am doing as much as I do,” Hoffman said.

Indeed. A job well done by the students, and by TCL.

Students share business ideas; earn $7,000 in start-up funding from TCL