Motorcycle helmet company wins Bennington Road Pitch
By Christie Wisniewski, Bennington Banner
BENNINGTON — Five regional entrepreneurs competed at the fifth annual Bennington FreshTracks Road Pitch competition Tuesday night, but only one could come out on top, winning $500, a Vermont Teddy Bear, and a spot in the Statewide Pitch-Off in Burlington.
Schenectady, N.Y.-based KIRSH Helmets caught the judges' attention with their 100 percent American-made, low-profile motorcycle helmets and were named the winner of the local competition. KIRSH has found success previously, becoming the official motorcycle helmet of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.
To qualify for the Bennington Road Pitch, entrepreneurs were selected by a panel of judges during the preliminary round. Each pitch followed a strict seven-minute format and was followed by eight minutes of Q&A from the panelists.
Judges used standardized scoring sheets to evaluate each pitch. Scores were tallied at the end of the night to determine the winner.
Bennington's Road Pitch was held at Old Castle Theatre with an audience of about 50 Road Pitch judges. These biker judges travel throughout the state by motorcycle, stopping in 10 towns to listen to entrepreneurs pitch their business concepts. The local competition was hosted by the Lightning Jar, a downtown business incubator and co-working space.
The winner of each competition will advance to the October 17 state pitch at Champlain College.
A $5,000 cash prize and a year of mentoring from the biker judges will be given to the state winner. KIRSH, Paca Performance Gear, Inky's Bookshelf, Fabber, and Campus Pro all participated in Tuesday's pitch.
Paca Performance Gear, an outerwear company that uses alpaca fur instead of goose down or synthetics, originated at Southern Vermont College. The company uses second and third cuts of alpaca fur that would have otherwise gone to waste.
Inky's Bookshelf offers a monthly curated book subscription service along with a social media application where users can share reviews among each other. Users can choose book topics that interest them and also upload a picture of their bookshelf to give the company a better idea of their preferences.
Fabber is a digital fabrication platform that helps those using Computer-Aided Design programs create products more quickly. With this software, designers can create or download objects such as tables or chairs and have them made in a fraction of the time it would have taken with traditional software.
Campus Pro is an application currently being tested at the University of Albany that allows "student freelancers" to offer their services to other students. Students can download the app and find a fellow student who can cut their hair, tutor them, fix their shoes, and more.
Donnie DeVito, one of the founders of Kirsh, led the seven-minute pitch for his company.
"I know you understand safety and the importance of safety," he said to the group of biker judges. DeVito believes most motorcycle helmets are either "excessively big and bulky" or "lightweight and poorly constructed," and riders are looking for a helmet that's comfortable, stylish, low-profile, and attractive at a fair price. The helmets currently retail for $245.
"This is a tough helmet for a tough customer," he said. In addition to being made entirely in America, the helmets are assembled by veterans and people with disabilities.
This isn't DeVito's firrst time pitching a business idea; he has previously financed and been involved in numerous startup companies before KIRSH. "My role here is to build the business and move the product from a prototype to production," he said.
KIRSH's vice president of corporate strategy is none other than Steve Piehl, who worked for Harley-Davidson for 35 years.
Currently, the helmets are in production and pre-orders will be filled soon. Approximately 1,200 helmets have been pre-ordered so far, and DeVito expects to sell 17,000 within the next few months.
When it came to the Q&A part, one judge wanted to know why KIRSH is limiting its product to motorcycle helmets. DeVito says the company is open to licensing the helmet technology for other helmet uses when the time comes. "That day will come, but this is about focus (on this one product)" he said.
Christie Wisniewski can be reached at email@example.com and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.