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Pitch Perfect: From movies to marijuana

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The panel of guest judges for Sobou's BarPreneur event was led Robbie Vitrano of Naked Pizza and Trumpet and Tim Williamson, CEO of the Idea Village.

How many successful entrepreneurs first fleshed out their ideas on a napkin, over a drink, at a bar? Ti Martin, who’s a pretty dynamic entrepreneur herself, figures there have been plenty of such “barpreneurs.” So this past Friday, the co-owner of the long-established and seriously successful Commander’s Palace restaurant and proprietor of SoBou, the smart, hip French Quarter watering hole, decided to get ahead of the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week with an event of her own.

With only 12 slots available, wannabe entrepreneurs who might be deemed “not-quite-ready-for prime time” were invited to register to make their pitches and have lunch at SoBou with a team of successful “barpreneur” judges. Led by Robbie Vitrano, owner of Trumpet , an advertising, design and strategy company and originator of the growing Naked Pizza chain and Tim Williamson co-founder and CEO of The Idea Village, each entrant would be given the opportunity to pitch their project and get feedback and advice from a team of successful New Orleans business people.

No money, just priceless access.

Milling around SoBou’s bar, this group of young and not-so-young folk chatted among themselves about everything from movie screenplays to fashion design to agricultural use for water recovered from the fracking industry to making fitness equipment available on public land; there was even one participant presenting an ingenious way to get in on the increasingly legitimate marijuana market!  

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Twelve entrepreneurial contestants delivered one minute pitches to the panel of guest judges.

Then it was time for each to offer a one-minute pitch. These, the judges hoped, would be so compelling it would be difficult to decide which three would be invited back as semi-finalists. With young Pepper Baumer, the next incoming generation of the Brennan restaurant family as time-keeper, the pitches were kept strictly to time. And then off the judges went to a nearby room for a five-minute deliberation.

As it turned out, some of those 60-second presentations lacked a little something in the compelling department. And while the judges agreed there was worth in each of the pitches, only those with real clarity of business purpose and organized narratives made it into the semis: water from fracking, fitness equipment and, yes, a way to get in on the marijuana market.

Each had a second 3-minute pitch opportunity followed by a limited amount of q and a. Then it was back into the secret jury room for the judges.

Hard-nosed business evaluation followed, with the water fracking project deemed important but financially challenging and the marijuana project a great idea but in need of better product design. The spirited discussion went on to discuss the community and business value of exercise, and the fitness equipment on public land won out.

Robbie Vitrano made the announcement for the team members – investor and entrepreneur, Doug Walner; Malcolm Schwarzenbach, partner in Vitrano’s Trumpet Company; and Angelika Valenta, a member of The Idea Village.

It was applause all around, followed by lunch on SoBou and a continuing conversation with some of New Orleans most creativ, successful and generous of spirit business people

For information about the sixth annual New Orleans Entrepreneur Week beginning today which is expected to draw close to 5,000 people to seminars, workshops and social events, go to www.noew.org.

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]