ROC the Pitch is back for its second round. The business pitch competition, hosted by Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship, will give nine diverse Monroe County businesses a leg up on growth.
They will vie for a top prize of $25,000, two prizes of $5,000 each, the People’s Choice Award of at least $2,000—from ticket sales—and a Rotary 4-Way Test Award of at least $1,000.
ROC the Pitch is sponsored by RIT, ESL, the Greater Rochester Black Business Alliance and Rochester Economic Development Corp., Rochester Rotary and the Urban League of Rochester. Representatives from some of these organizations, including entrepreneurs, will judge the pitches.
Launched in 2019, the contest took a hiatus after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In its first year, the event drew more than 200 people to the Strathallan. Organizers have moved it to a larger venue at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Rochester. It will take place Aug. 25 at 5:30 p.m.
The business pitch competition was launched to serve low-tech or no-tech businesses, says Ebony Miller-Wesley, director of CUE, adding that similar events in Rochester target high-tech and high-growth industries.
“I thought it was important that as we tried to create a level playing field with access to resources, and be inclusive, (that we) offer something like this for those that aren’t necessarily high-tech, high-growth, scalable businesses,” Miller-Wesley says.
CUE’s mission is to help reshape the regional economy and build wealth in the urban community by being the central resource for urban entrepreneurial programs and research. In 2019, four businesses—Munchies Roc City Empanadas, Katboocha, the Groom Room Men’s Spa and Pointii—received $10,000 each. The event was open to businesses operating within the four quadrants of the city of Rochester. This year it includes businesses within Monroe County.
Eligible businesses were required to provide proof of residency, identification, a business plan and revenue figures for 2020 and 2021.
“One of the things that we went through and looked at is how well did they do over the past two years,” Miller-Wesley says. “We looked at the quality of their submission, we looked at the business as a whole, based on what they presented to us at that time.”
A prerequisite for selected contestants is participation in an eight-session CUE bootcamp, where business owners are trained on various topics, including a pitch deck. Currently, the contestants are going through pitch-deck training and will soon begin to practice their pitch. With one exception, Miller-Wesley says, none of these business owners have done this before.
After the competition, ROC the Pitch winners are required to go through CUE’s capacity-building program, she adds.
“The bottom line is all of these businesses came to us and competed for this prize because they needed help,” Miller-Wesley says.
The capacity-building program is a six-month process where participants learn about elements that contribute to business growth, including sales, marketing, branding, human resources and strategy.
The nine businesses participating in ROC the Pitch are:
Miller-Wesley hopes ROC the Pitch attendees leave with the mindset that “when one of us wins, we all win.”
“This competition is not just going to be successful because of the work that I’m doing at RIT,” she says. “It’s successful because of the collaboration that we’re able to do within our entrepreneurial ecosystem, working towards the same goal. So, when you look at our entrepreneurial ecosystem, and you look at the service providers that exist within, we all have to have a common goal in order to best service our entrepreneurs.”
Rochester stands to gain from a collaborative approach, building on services offered to small-business owners.
“I feel, historically, organizations have operated competitively. And in order for us to do things different, and change that narrative, and bring more dollars to our city, we need to work together,” Miller-Wesley says. “I think that those that will be in attendance at this event will see that theme of working together.”
Registration is required for the event. Proceeds of the $10 attendance fee goes toward the People’s Choice Award.