The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce will host the seventh installment of its Shark Tank-styled business-pitch competition at the chamber’s annual LGBT business conference next week.
The sold-out International Business and Leadership Conference, entitled “LGBT Unity,” takes place Aug. 14-17 and will feature more than 1,200 entrepreneurs, corporate decision-makers, affiliate chamber leaders and government officials from around the world.
One of the events includes the LGBT Biz Pitch entrepreneurial competition, where three finalist companies will make onstage presentations in front of the conference’s plenary audience Aug. 17 at the Philadelphia Marriot Downtown. Finalists will conduct five-minute presentations about their company, a new or existing product, market or other innovations.
Jonathan Lovitz, NGLCC’s senior vice president, said the competition is a celebration of the “most innovative LGBT-owned companies.
“This year we’ve had the largest number of applicants since we started the competition because the stakes are so high. We’re giving away $50,000 in cash and prizes, and for a small business owner, that’s a game changer,” Lovitz said. “It’s a feel-good celebration of who’s getting it right. Attendees can use this as a learning experience by hearing the finalists’ pitch to our panel of expert judges and the feedback that they receive.”
Three finalists were narrowed down from a pool of more than 500 applicants, and then narrowed down to 15 semifinalists. After an online public vote, eParel, Hootlogy and Nap Bar were selected as this year’s Biz Pitch finalists.
Matthew Wilson and Kevin Schiesz are the cofounders of eParel, a New York-based tech company that specializes in providing on-trend clothes and acessories for the hospitality industry and services businesses of all kinds. The cofounders got their first clients in 2015. Their combined experience in the catering and hospitality industry sparked the idea for the uniform-apparel company.
“Employees have no say in what they wear to work. Style, fit, fabric and treatment of clothes are outside of employees’ control. We’re changing all of that by giving employees a portal where they can log in and view pieces that are approved by their managers,” Schiesz said.
“We’re targeting independent hotels and restaurants that are underserved by huge conglomerates like Cintas or Aramark. Employers have a choice in how employees dress — they just don’t have any options,” he said.
Schiesz mentioned that he and his long-time friend and now-business partner are looking to give employees “a voice” in what they would like to wear, as well as a place to find work-approved shoes, belts an accessories. eParel is already selling brands such as Calvin Klein and Van Hausen on their trademarked online platform Bib & Tucker .
A second finalist is Hootlogy — a “modernized” market-research company founded by Stefanie Francis. The New York-based startup “incorporates modern technology and modern society in gathering research information so big businesses can make big decisions,” Francis said.
Hootlogy, founded in January 2017, has worked with one-third of the Fortune-100 companies in providing “innovative” market research such as biometrics, qualitative-experiential environment data analysis, facial recognition and artificial intelligence. Francis said the market research methods such as focus groups or online surveys can be stale and not indicative of trends today.
“The company began out of frustration with complacency in the industry in just settling for how things have always been done,” she said. “I wanted to be open-minded in questioning the way things that have always been done while working in what’s going on in today’s climate.”
Francis noted that what makes Hootlogy different from the other market-research companies is that involved with the process after the research reports are turned into the companies.
“Market research tends to be stale and siloed, and we wanted to extend the process and make it be a part of what helps companies bring the information we provide to life. The process usually ends when a report is delivered — but we stay involved to help internal corporate teams do something with the information instead of leaving them to figure it out,” she said.
Khaliah Guillory, the last Biz Pitch finalist, is looking to get her company, Nap Bar, off the ground. Nap Bar is Guillory’s solution to the afternoon crash that working professionals and entrepreneurs face during a workday.
“I want to open a modern health and wellness center for professionals, entrepreneurs and globetrotters to take 20-30-minute power naps to recharge their productivity,” she said.
The Houston native envisions Nap Bar to be a tri-level space with 10-12 napping pods made of mahogany wood, an inverted garage with greenery “to spark creativity” coupled with a coffee bar.
Guillory thought of the idea of Nap Bar after leaving her 14-year career behind in financial services.
“I knew I wanted to do something more than what I was doing and I went to something that I felt passionate about. There’s a stigmatism attached to napping. People can be thought of as lazy, but it’s the complete opposite. Power naps can promote productivity,” she said.
The NGLCC has nearly 1,100 certified business enterprises, 204 corporate partnerships and 60 affiliate chambers, including its Philadelphia chamber, the Independence Business Alliance.
“We’re certifying more businesses because it is now essential for companies to have LGBT suppliers included in their supplier-diversity programs if they want to receive a perfect score on the [Human Rights Campaign’s] Corporate Equality Index,” Lovitz said.
“The impact of the LGBT economy is something that can’t be overlooked. LGBT businesses contribute $1.7 trillion to the economy.”