‘Road pitch’ comes to town

Event judge Colin Owyang, right, chats with eventual Road Pitch winner Jeremy Lesniak from the whistlekick company. SANDY MACYS PHOTO

BARRE — If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. The old maxim proved to be the winning formula for a candidate competing for the support of business leaders and venture capitalists in the annual statewide FreshTracks Road Pitch during a motorcycle rally that included Gov. Phil Scott in the Granite City on Thursday. Jeremy Lesniak, o f Montpelier, is the founder of whistlekick, a central Vermont company that makes “simply the world’s best sparring gear” for marital artists in training. He attended a previous entrepreneur event at Vermont Technical College in Randolph last year but was unsuccessful in winning support for his product. At this year’s Road Pitch at the Vermont Granite Museum in Barre — and after refining his message and presentation — Lesniak had the perfect pitch and product to win the adulation of the judges and a total of $ 2,250 in prize money. Lesniak, a former leader of an IT consulting firm for many years, gave it all up to pursue his lifelong passion for martial arts. He realized that standard sparring equipment was poorly made and unsafe, and started a company in 2010 to capitalize on$314 million in annual sales in the U.S. alone with 7 million customers. Worldwide, there are 250 million customers, he said. “The protective gear that we were all wearing — the helmets, the gloves, the boots — were really crummy,” said Lesniak, who holds black belts in three martial arts disciplines. He subsequently developed a range of durable products — made of polyurethane under a vinyl coating — to help martial artists avoid crippling injuries “because martial artists deserve products that reflect their passion,” Lesniak said. “I’m here for two things: I’m looking for people that have connections in the apparel and sporting goods world and I’m also looking for $250,000 for our fundraising round to add inventory and bring on new products,” Lesniak added. It was convincing enough to win the support of the Road Pitch crew that has been described as the “Shark Tank” of Vermont. They voted Lesniak the winner of the Barre leg of a 10-stop tour of the state over five days to hear winning business ideas from enterprising entrepreneurs looking for support. An idea for another ready-made market waiting to be tapped won second place — and $500 in prize money — for Dominic Spillane, of Northfield. His Theater Engine is a digital social networking platform that meshes theater producers with audiences, tapping into a $3.5 billion market in the U.S. alone, Spillane said. Three other pitches included Ace McArleton’s eco-friendly pre-fabricated building materials made by New Frameworks, of Burlington; a utility belt to reduce back and other injuries for fuel oil deliverers called Vermont Backhand, designed by Barre resident Dan Carver; and Vet Access, a digital platform to connect pet owners with veterinarians, developed by Andy and Andrea Gilbert, of Hardwick. Gov. Scott was clearly in his element riding along with the “road warriors” on his Harley Davidson Fat Boy between Randolph and Barre, and mingling with business leaders at the Barre Road Pitch stop. “Any day I can get out to ride on Vermont’s beautiful scenic roads is a good day for me,” Scott said. Scott also stressed the importance of new business ventures and the FreshTracks Road Pitch tour to meet enterprising entrepreneurs in search of support. Fresh Tracks’ co-founder and event organizer Cairn Cross welcomed entrepreneurs at each stop, and praised organizers in Barre for Thursday’s event. “This has been a great stop,” Cross said. The final leg of the Road Pitch tour includes stops in St. Johnsbury and Hyde Park today. For more information about the FreshTracks’ Road Pitch program, call 923-1500 or visit www.roadpitch.co. stephen.mills@timesargus.com

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