BUFFALO, NY - A newspaper that focuses on the immigrant and refugee community in Buffalo took home top prize at "The Pitch" Thursday night.
"The Pitch" business competition finals started out with a harmonious performance by the Resonance Vocal Ensemble from the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts. The crowd was thinner than anticipated due to moderate rainfall, but at least 100 filled the auditorium of the Buffalo Science Museum.
"The Pitch" kicked off startup week in Buffalo and three companies were vying for a piece of the $20,000 prize - Rachel's Remedy, Urban Fruits and Veggies, and Karibu News. One company received $10,000 and two will took home $5,000.
“You Guys Rock,” explained emcee Jennifer J. Parker at the podium.
"The Pitch" is an off-shoot of the 43North competition and also sponsored by the city of Buffalo, ECIDA, New York Business Development Council and a half dozen other agencies. The main goal for "The Pitch" is to highlight women and minority-owned businesses and reach out to those communities for participation in the startup scene.
After the pomp and circumstance of officials thanking each other, the panel of seven judges took their seats and began hearing the first pitch. Rwandan-born Rubens Mukunzi took the microphone and began the pitch for Karibu News.
“I’m here tonight to present you my business,” Mukunzi started.
Mukunzi fled Rwanda several years ago. After several run-ins and dealing with government intimidation, he emigrated to the United States and found himself in Buffalo.
Karibu News started publishing a year ago. In a time when newspapers across the country are stopping their presses, Karibu is looking to speed up theirs. The paper is published in 6 languages and is aimed at informing the growing immigrant and refugee community in Buffalo about legal issues, cultural news, home security, and even citizenship information.
“As you know, information is the best of everything," Mukunzi said in the pitch, "without information there’s nothing.”
The judges questioned Rubens about sourcing information from the community, publishing classifieds, and news partnerships in an era media consolidation. Of the three companies that pitched, the judges appeared to question Karibu news the most.
Rachel’s Remedy was next on "The Pitch" stage and talked about a breakthrough application for nursing mothers. The company developed a patent pending breastfeeding relief pack. The pack was developed by a WNY mother looking for a safer, cleaner method of nursing.
The success of the prototype helped launch the company and the product is selling across multiple retail avenues.
“Since we formed about two years ago we have gained traction with almost every major retailer," said Sesha Yalamanchili, "so Target, Amazon, Babies R Us, have already signed on to sell our product.”
Yalamanchili says the company will take the $5,000 winnings to work on vertical integration of their manufacturing, which is done in a Southtown's facility.
Wrapping up the pitch session was Urban Fruits and Veggies. An urban farm aiming to fill the gap in the east sides food deserts. As part of the new Bailey Green project, UFV plans to expand to full season growing with a hydroponics greenhouse, all part of the larger goal of giving Buffalo healthier option.
“Why did the governor allocate millions of dollars for Western New York?" asked Allison DeHonney, company founder, rhetorically. "It’s because we are very sick. A lot of things can be remedied by what we eat.”
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who spoke at the event, was happy with the applicants and turnout in year one of the city's participation.
“The city would love to do this again, we’d love to up the ante, we’ve already talked about increasing the total of prizes,” Mayor Brown said.