PitchBlack is an annual startup pitching event where people of color bring their business ideas before a mixed audience and Shark Tank it out for two hours.
In the three years it's been going, the winning pot of money — mostly donated — has grown from $1,500 to $12,000 to this year's $23,000. Pitch Black had 80 more attendees than last year, and 46 local businesses contributed to the winners.
Each company was pitching for investors so it could grow in the Portland area while spreading its name far wider.
The Business Tribune picked three that stood out from the crowd for their presentation and content.
Whether these are viable businesses remains to be seen. But they each have a creative energy that should propel them forward. It may even get them in front of the people who hold the purse strings, the investors judging who gets a chance to thrive and who doesn't.
Chris Franklin - Lost 'N Portland
Chris Franklin started Lost 'N Portland five years ago a podcast series when he got into the great outdoors. He was raised in Orange County, California. His idea of exercise was indoor basketball and volleyball. But when he moved to Portland five years ago he checked out Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. The most popular natural attraction in the state blew his mind and he became an avid solo hiker. While working as a server at the oyster bar EAT along North Williams Ave., he would restore himself with long walks in the countryside.
"When I went out to the Gorge for the first time I realized it's something that's accessible and easy," he told the Business Tribune. "The trail development there is amazing. People should be educated about it, and realize these are achievable tasks."
He started summiting mountains, kayaking rivers and posting daily videos. "I realized, I was an athlete, but not an outdoors athlete."
He found a friend who played guitar, Matthew Porter. Franklin began filming Porter's performances around town. Franklin introduced him to hiking and the two began documenting their hikes. They have 18 episodes of their podcast up now, and try to make it to a new hiking spot every week.
Their favorite is the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington. "There are amazing, amazing waterfalls, where I can be all by myself."
But Franklin was keenly aware that he saw few African American people on the trails and he wants to change that by encouraging black them to feel comfortable in nature.
Of Porter he says, "He had reservations about getting lost, and I could comfort those feelings. Now he feels comfortable on trails, knows how to carry himself and respect the outdoors. You only learn by exposure."
He says race relations have not been well served by reporters lately.
"The media hasn't done a lot of justice. 'What bleeds leads' doesn't serve us very well. So, I am building a media company."
His podcast also aims to promote stewardship of the land, and access.
"There's a huge gap in access to nature for people of color. My dad was an amazing father. He grew up in Watts in Los Angeles, where the last thing you think about is going out in nature."
His product is hardly likely to set Silicon Valley or even Sears on fire — it's a niche media company. The podcast is produced by Proud and Disgusted, a small company that arranges the advertising, distribution and technical side of things for eager content producers.
Their next season will tell stories of black pioneers. He points out that blacks were in Oregon in the 1700s, and even though the when Oregon became a state in 1859 the constitution barred black people, they didn't go away. "John Brown was one of the first black homesteaders, but John Brown Prairie is still called Nigger Prairie on some maps."
He says he wants to "build archetypes for how we interact with the outdoors," while retaining a reverence for nature.
"We're going to be normalizing the idea of black pioneers." This means telling the stories of people like Faith Briggs, one of the Directors of Toughness for Columbia Sportswear; Richie Jones, an African-American fly fisherman; and Adam Edwards, a star kayaker.
What puts black people off hiking?
"There are fears: men with guns, a certain posturing. I can't always feel like it's a welcoming place. Some of the people, particularly in Oregon, have an anger or angst to people who don't look like them. It's not just white people to black people — it's the same travelling through Hawaii, the locals want to claim the land and they don't want other people coming through."
The apparel line is about making people feel comfortable in the outdoors — poly blend fabrics, athletic and loose tops, non-geeky rain gear. It is casual clothing you could easily wear in the city. Right now, it is just branded merch. Franklin, 34, wants to design his own line later. As well as being in the service industry (tending bar at Basecamp Brewing) he is an actor (TV ads for Mercedes Benz, a lot of work with Fred Meyer) and a model. And he's opened a nightclub on West Burnside and Second Avenue called Nyx.
He also does warehouse fulfillment work at Mad Hippy, his friend's skincare line.
"I have a ton going on, but when I get home, Lost 'N Portland is where I put my creative energy."
Jordan Hayles - Period Petty
Jordan Hayles aims to start a menstrual movement. "Why can we have open carry guns but not open carry tampons," she asked facetiously in her pitch at Pitch Black. Hayles says there is so much shame around menstruation that it's time to do something about it. She proposes a three-part business.
A store, an art exhibit and a free supplies kiosk at bus stops.
The business is called Period Petty, a name derived from talking back to her own period, which she once said was "being petty" in its grievances. "I was cramping, and it was like a character trapped inside me. Why not have a conversation with your period, it's going to last most of your life."
The store would sell all sort of products for the vagina, the uterus and the pelvic area, and would be organized in sections: periods, pregnancy and old age. "It will cover pleasure as well as pain," she said. And it would have place to just hang out and sit, and not be judged. "A place to be pampered, to get a foot rub or a piece of chocolate."
"The grocery store aisle is not designed for our vaginal, uterine and pelvic floor needs," she said. "And it's not designed for educating about these needs and products."
The store will also be convenient. For example, a woman who has just had a baby might find herself going to different specialty stores to get what she needs, from pads to creams to supplements. "Here they would be all in one place. One-stop shopping," says Hayles.
The art installation idea consists of cataloging all the products that the store might stock and arrange them somewhere for people just to look at. She says they might recreate them in miniatures, or use a monitor, to make them easier to display.
The third element would be kiosks at bus stops providing free sanitary napkins, pads and tampons. This could be for any woman, but targeting the homeless in particular. (Hayles was unaware of the charity Period which does just that, gather sanitary products for homeless women. Someone at the event told her about them and said she would put them in touch.)
"With a problem that runs as deep as this, there's no overlap. There's a need for more of us to come up with solutions."
She's talking to ODOT and TriMet about installing the kiosks, which would also allow people to donate supplies.
"They're super excited. There's not as much as red tape issues as you'd think." They will start with one in each of the five quadrants and see how people react. "I believe in people-centered design," she added. A kiosk could be any size from a mini book exchange to a soda machine.
Hayles's day job is running brand consultancy the Radical Brand Lab. "I work on projects for trouble makers and truth tellers," she said cryptically.
She won $5,750 or 25 percent of the pot for coming third in the competition, based on audience voting.
Like many of the pitches, the project is mainstream, not aimed just at African Americans. She said black women get more fibroids than others, but that was the only difference. They suffer neither more nor less shame around menstruation than other ethnicities. "There's shame across the board."
Lindsey Murphy - The Fab Lab
Lindsey Murphy was working at MTV at age 20. After a stint at Deutsch advertising she was burned out at 25. She had been in marketing and business development, around creative people but not one of them. She left New York City for New Jersey and began babysitting.
"That's when I realized I was a natural creator. I was awesome with kids, and I loved teaching kids but didn't want to be a teacher."
Parents loved how they would come home and find the kids had gone on a nature walk and made a week's worth of granola, or play dough or flubber, or decorated for the holidays. As she was leaving one of her babysitting jobs in 2008, the dad asked her to put some videos on YouTube because the kids would miss her.
She got down to it — two years later. Those videos morphed into The Fab Labs, which on YouTube are tagged Crazy Aunt Lindsey, Kids DIY, Science, Story Time. They are high fun science experiments, explorations and explanations, shot in people homes with real kids.
YouTube channels she likes are TED and TEDx, Science in Real Life and The Psych Show.
She stresses they are not point-and-shoot pieces, the kind people start out doing in their bedroom. "All the video bloggers are like shows, they have teams behind them." No more hand cam or mirror shots, no more bad audio and non-existent SEO.
"I produce everything myself," Murphy told the Business Tribune with a laugh. "What I need now is to raise capital for at least a production generalist, who can scout, shoot, edit and do lighting. And someone who can write, project manage the shows, do marketing, web stuff and SEO, basically another one of me."
She moved to Portland four years ago and worked for Nike, Adidas and Weiden + Kennedy, in an executive liaison role, quitting the latter on February 28, 2017, to run the Fab Lab full time.
Now 33, she still has a few favorite families she sits for, and ropes their kids into the shows.
"Right now, I am purely building this media company, and I don't foresee selling it. I
don't have a salary, so securing funding is 100 percent the outlook so I can hire people."
She uses resources from Open Signal along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and the kindness of friends.
"I am a one-woman operation. Right now, I am trying to figure out how to build an overhead rig. I have not even thought about how much I need to raise. Whatever it would take to make this sustainable for two years, and pay someone to work with me."
Murphy tallied the most votes and won $11,500 or 50 percent of the pot.
Full list of Pitch Black 2017 pitchers
"Native Story Telling"
"Lost In Portland"
"Black Box Studio"
"Crazy Aunt Lindsey"
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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