Access to capital has long been recognized as a major challenge for startups and growing small businesses. In rural America, a lack of capital has been identified as one of the main reasons for the decline in startup rates over the past several years.

Numerous pitch programs exist, but nearly all are urban-based, technology-focused, and concentrate on startups expected to generate big ROIs by going public or selling to another company with deep-pockets. Many also have a win-lose, “Shark Tank” mindset, with little support, guidance, or coaching for pitch participants.

The Hannah Grimes Center launched PitchFork in 2016. The program has evolved into two offerings:

The PitchFork EventTM strengthens pitch skills in entrepreneurs and uses a friendly pitch event to build connections with various “investors” in the community — banks, venture angels, regional economic development corporations, private lenders, potential customers, community influencers and champions, mentors, and other resources in the community.

The PitchFork ChallengeTM seeks to do much the same, but is structured as a “competition” with multiple rounds and judges who award a cash prize to the winning business pitch at a high energy pitch finale.

PitchFork is intentionally encouraging and supportive. With access to capital and access to pitch guidance, practice, and coaching for participants, everyone who participates in a PitchFork should feel that they have gained invaluable insights about their business, learned how to talk about their business publicly, and understand what they need to do to make their business a success.

PitchFork provides important opportunities for exposure, visibility, and networking — opportunities often lacking in rural areas. Over the years, we have come to recognize that the program’s social element is one of the aspects of PitchFork valued most by our entrepreneurs.

Critically, PitchFork is intended to be fun, energizing, and festive! It’s a way to bring the community together to support, encourage, and applaud our small town businesses — not just bankers or economic development professionals, but friends, family, and neighbors.

We hope that the guide will inspire and support you in running a Pitch program in YOUR community!