A uniform-apparel company took home $50,000 in cash and prizes at the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s annual Biz Pitch competition for an entry the judges deemed “a relevant and interesting take on an industry that no one thinks about.”
The company, eParel, is the NGLCC’s seventh Biz Pitch entrepreneurial-competition winner. The “Shark Tank”-styled event capped off the 2018 International Business and Leadership Conference at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown Aug. 17.
Matthew Wilson and Kevin Schiesz — cofounders of the New York-based company that specializes in providing on-trend clothes and accessories for the hospitality industry — edged out competitors Hootlogy and Nap Bar. The duo took home a $25,000 cash prize, along with a $25,000 business-consulting package that included Apple products and a marketing-strategy campaign created by the Philadelphia-based media company Chatterblast.
“We were up against two great companies and we’re overwhelmed, but elated, to have won,” Schiesz said at the close of the competition.
The win will help the company employ more people to create a sales team, Wilson said.
“We’re the only two full-time employees and we will invest in a much-needed sales team. That will free the two of us up to develop more creative strategies in an effort to expand the business,” he said.
The competition, hosted by NGLCC cofounder Justin Nelson, featured five-minute presentations by the finalists, introducing their businesses to a panel of three judges and a crowd of nearly 200 guests in the Marriott’s grand ballroom. The finalists provided a detailed description of their individual business plans with strategies on how to establish and increase revenue as well as how they would attract and maintain a lucrative customer base.
Each finalist was paired with a corporate mentor ahead of their pitches — Scott Sapperstein, assistant vice president of public affairs at AT&T (mentoring eParel), Miriam Brown, supplier-diversity professional at Freddie Mac (mentoring Nap Bar) and Scott Vowels, supplier-diversity manager at Apple (mentoring Hootlogy).
Sapperstein, who delivered the opening remarks for the competition, told PGN he advised his mentees to “keep it simple.”
“They did a great job with not bogging down the judges and the audience with too much information. The goal was to keep it simple, keep it under five minutes and for Schiesz and Wilson to be themselves during the presentation. They nailed it,” he said.
The eParel founders presented first and provided judges samples of their uniforms. Schiesz outlined how their business provides managers an opportunity to “create and deploy [options], and employees select their uniforms from the comfort of their own home.” Clients browse and choose company-approved uniforms and accessories from eParel’s trademarked online market platform, Bib & Tucker.
Stefanie Francis followed, presenting her New York-based market-research company Hootlogy. Chance Mitchell, cofounder of NGLCC and one of the judges, complimented Francis on her enthusiasm during her presentation, but “had a difficult time understanding what the product offering [was] and how it is scalable.” Mitchell recommended that Francis “lead with the mission and vision of what the company is, what the product is and how it’s going to solve a problem that is not currently addressed in the market.”
Khaliah Guillory concluded the presentations with her concept for Nap Bar, billed as a solution to the midday burnout that working professionals and entrepreneurs face. Guillory explained her vision as a standalone space with 10-12 napping pods made of mahogany wood, an inverted garage with greenery “to spark creativity” coupled with a coffee bar. She also added the possibility of incorporating the Nap Bar into airports and corporate work spaces.
David Beatty, another Biz Pitch judge, applauded Guillory on her high-energy presentation, but was concerned that the pitch had more to do with “why we should take naps” and less on “the execution of the business plan.”
Heidi Lehmann, the third judge, ultimately named eParel the winners, applauding the “fantastic progress [they’ve] made in the market.”
Francis said that although she fell short of the win, she “was grateful to have the opportunity to share my business with potential investors” and thanked her Biz Pitch mentor for the support.
Guillory also was thankful for the chance to publicize her project.
“I’m glad to get the Nap Bar brand out there and for others to see my vision,” she said after the competition. “This is only the beginning, and if I’m able to leave here with someone interested in learning more, that’s a win on its own.”
Lehmann congratulated Schiesz and Wilson as they came onto the stage to accept the award.
“I think the on-demand economy and the Uberization of everything, including this uniform business, is so relevant, and we look forward to you taking over the world,” Lehmann told the winners.