“Every day as an entrepreneur is the biggest day of your life.”
That’s Troy Morris sharing what he’s learned as one of the co-founders of Kall Morris, Inc, the space-tech startup that won the Center on Rural Innovation’s inaugural Small Towns, Big Ideas virtual pitch event in 2021.
But when the hour arrived on Nov. 10 for the second annual event, which featured pre-seed or seed-stage rural startups from a variety of sectors, it was safe to assume the moment wasn’t quite as big for Morris as it was for the entrepreneurs hoping to follow his footsteps and preparing to pitch for this year’s $10,000 cash prize.
A panel of volunteer judges assessed each of the pitching companies based upon a variety of criteria, including the product, business model, traction, and narrative. Transition, a recruiting platform based in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, captured the $10k prize with its pitch to address the widespread shortage of essential healthcare workers by bridging the disconnect between allied health training schools and employers to optimize student employment outcomes.
Meet the startups from the second annual Small Towns, Big Ideas pitch event
The 10 participating startups spanned a variety of sectors and all hailed from one of the 33 communities served by the Rural Innovation Network. You can see their pitches and learn more about each of them below:
How can do-it-yourself investors make sense of the dizzying volume of market news to gain usable insights into specific stocks? That’s what Ramsey Schaffer, an investor and data science professional, and the team at Babbl have set out to do with their platform, which uses a suite of algorithms to track news sentiment to help users identify which stocks are moving the market. Babbl scrapes the internet for relevant coverage about more than 5,000 stocks, analyzes the findings in real time, and alerts users as sentiment changes.
With Doug, co-founders Jason Seck and Gary Feuerman, are trying to reimagine the way people can connect with local businesses online. Their mobile social app seeks to replace reviews with “vibes” and pushes users to share what they love about a place, why they love a place — rather than leaving room for negative reviews lacking context — to create a more thoughtful, curated experience than similar apps provide. So far the platform, which aims to reward high-quality, independent businesses, already has users from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Boulder, Colorado.
E Glass Industries
The entrepreneurial spirit caught Alex Ellett early. In high school, he built his own hay business from 30 acres to 300 with four employees serving clients in multiple states. Now, at 23, Ellett is shipping auto parts across the country with his latest venture, E Glass Products (EGP), which uses 3D modeling technology to more cheaply and efficiently create aftermarket fiberglass composite auto body panels that won’t rust or corrode. In short order, EGP has already developed more than two dozen products, scored a production contract with Daimler Trucks, and employs more than a half dozen people.
Building on her own professional and personal experience, Jody Schanhals and her team at MeetingMaker want to support individuals in recovery for drug- or alcohol-related offenses with their paperless system for recording meeting attendance. Their app streamlines the process for those attending meetings and those tracking attendance, using GPS to discreetly verify attendance and a seamless, cloud-based interface that can drastically reduce the workload for court case managers.
Emily King’s passion for the geology of her native Maine is part of the inspiration for her startup, Prospector Portal — and her background in the mining industry takes it from there. With Prospector, she has sought to create a user-friendly platform for potential investors to do their due diligence research into mining projects. Using machine learning and AI to process data for subscribers, King’s venture saves users precious time performing analysis and is acquiring a growing customer base.
Dakota Hoskins, a 23-year-old carwash owner, recognized he would need a point-of-sale barcode scanner to maximize available revenue. When he realized there wasn’t a low-cost solution available, created his own system. The result — Safari Solutions — utilizes wireless connections and proprietary technology to offer carwash owners and other businesses a simple retrofit for existing payment kiosks at a fraction of the cost for a full upgrade.
The widespread shortage of essential healthcare workers is the focus of Kayla Wright-Jackson and her startup, Transition. It is a platform intended to bridge the gap between allied health training and employment in order to improve student outcomes, connecting students with job opportunities and resources in a new way. Transition allows schools to help students with career planning, resume building, job exploration, and peer collaboration, while also improving employers’ understanding of and access to untapped talent pools. In its first year, the startup has helped more than 600 students find a job.
Consumers today can book nearly anything they want online, and with TripOutside, Julie and Reet Singh aim to fine-tune that process for outdoor adventure experiences. Their platform, which now features more than 800 vendors, allows users to explore, compare, and book a variety of curated rentals, tours, lessons, and other experiences across a number of outdoor activities.
United Aircraft Technologies
Building on the lived experience and expertise of a former military aircraft mechanic, the husband-and-wife duo of Daryian (the veteran) and Evaguel Rhysing founded United Aircraft Technologies (UAT). What they’ve created is a system of smart clamps for electrical aviation wires and a software system that monitors the health of the wiring, which can stretch for miles in a single aircraft. Their solution aims to reduce diagnostic troubleshooting time and improve safety outcomes.
Matthew Clark and the team at Whiteout Solutions have developed an application called geoSAP that uses spatial analysis processing to solve real-world problems with spatial data. The app, in development over the past several years, performs otherwise tedious data analysis tasks in a streamlined and automated way — one that creates a new processing framework for geospatial data that can be applied across a range of industries — without needing to create new data each time.
Meet last year’s winner
This year’s pitch event began with Troy Morris of Kall Morris, Inc, sharing how much of an impact the $10,000 prize from Small Towns, Big Ideas had on the young company’s growth.
Hear what Morris had to say in the video above.
Everyone benefits when entrepreneurs have support
CORI’s second annual pitch event was made possible by the support of our sponsors — Casner Edwards, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Mascoma Bank, Rural RISE, and Venable — as well as the time and expertise of our four judges: Amy Butte, Stacey Giard, Ayush Jain, and Charles Phillips.
And anyone interested in getting involved with the next generation of small-town tech startups should consider joining our Rural Innovation Mentor Network — we are always seeking individuals with valuable experience to join the ranks and make a difference. You can sign up directly here, or get in touch if you have any questions about the program.
At the Center on Rural Innovation, we are working with rural communities across the country to help position them to thrive in the 21st-century tech economy. To learn more about our work in this space, be sure to check out our blog and sign up for our newsletter.