T-shirts with a conscience

Pitch 101 identifies Island entrepreneurs

Dave Stewart dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 9, 2013
Mike MacLean, Hot Buys Canada, Duncan Shaw, Cogsdale, Jevon MacDonald, GoInstant, and Nikkie Gallant, Quipin Rewards, chat during a break at Pitch101. Pitch101 os one of a series of bridging events in Altantic Canada providing a fourm for young entrepreneurs, students, investors, mentors and service professionals.

Ryan Keliher of Charlottetown isn’t ready to take his socially active T-shirt clothing company idea to the real Dragon’s Den just yet but that doesn’t mean investors aren’t taking notice.

The Charlottetown Rural High School teacher and master of business student at UPEI took part in Pitch 101 recently at UPEI and hit the proverbial business idea home run.

The event brought together investors and representatives from venture capital funds, as well as entrepreneurs and students, to experience and learn from the pitching process when seeking investment.

Keliher made his pitch to a judging panel of investment dragons, including Patrick Keefe, manager, Regional Venture Capital Fund; Brian Lowe, co-founder/director, First Angel Network; and Robert Bechard, consultant with LifeSciences (formerly Biotech Venture Capitalist).

Keliher’s pitch involved an e-commerce retail clothing company with a cause. His group’s company, World United CHANGEwear, would sell products strong in quality, fashion-sense and meaning, uniting people interested in affecting positive social change.

Each month the company would raise awareness for a different social issue and donate a quarter of its profits to charities whose focus aligns with each month’s chosen issue.

“I think there’s an opportunity there,’’ Keliher said in an interview Friday.

“There is a rise in social entrepreneurship and there are companies out there doing something similar. There is a trend of people who want to show that they care and they do it through the clothes that they’re wearing.’’

The judges gave Keliher’s group three green cards, which meant they liked the idea.

The inaugural event was organized by UPEI and the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce.

Alan Duncan, dean of business at UPEI, said it was meant as an exercise in how people in business seek capital, when the right time is to sell, what needs to be considered and who are the right business partners to move forward with.

“There were some interesting discussions and debates that took place through that exercise,’’ Duncan said.

“There were all talking about their business experiences (and) how they got their ideas. Basically, they need people to tell them when they’re being stupid.’’

There were 16 pitches at the event and each presenter had a grand total of 60 seconds to pitch their idea.

There were some odd ideas. One woman pitched bunion boots, a shoe that is “designed to accommodate your bunions when you get them. The male judges seemed to be of the impression that women will put up with pain to look good.’’

Duncan said one other person wanted to create a business which dealt with the embarrassment of buying sex toys. The retail and online shop would use workshops and seminars to focus on developing intimacy, comfort and knowledge surrounding personal sexuality and individual preferences.

“That caused the judges to be a little speechless. They didn’t quite know how to question them on that one. She had them a little red-faced, I think.’’

Keliher said Pitch 101 was a tremendous experience.

“I had never done anything like that before. Getting up in front of 200 people who are interested in business and ideas and having investors there was a great learning experience. It was an opportunity for growth for me. Kind of (forced me) to step out of my comfort zone when presenting to the judges.’’

Tanya O’Brien, a member of the board of directors for the chamber, said events like Pitch 101 show the growth of entrepreneurship in the community.

“I think putting on an event like this allows people to see that entrepreneurship is alive and well on Prince Edward Island,’’ said O’Brien. “It gave you an idea of what’s going on out there in the world.’’

Keliher noted that CBC is holding auditions for Dragons Den in Charlottetown in two weeks but isn’t quite ready yet to pitch his idea.

“If I were to go on the Dragons Den I would actually want to have the company up and running and have some sales that I could show to the Dragons before they would even consider in investing in something like this,’’ Keliher said.

Perhaps he might do just that down the road. His MBA group has spent the past six weeks writing a business plan for their idea.

“It could come to life at some point.’’