Starting a company is a long journey, with lots of twists and turns. There are some essential ingredients for starting a company, but some of the best lessons are learned along the way. The most important thing for a startup is to solve a real problem. Find something that is truly significant.
St. Pete celebrates all things entrepreneurial. We recognize the gap for those businesses, ideas and endeavors that deserve the opportunity to move to the next level. These entrepreneurs need to be celebrated for what they have already accomplished and recognized for where they are heading. We take pride in our community coming together to support the entrepreneurs that are making this the city that we love.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are key to the success of programs offered through The Greenhouse. St. Pete Pitch Night was launched in 2019 to continue empowering entrepreneurs with the tools and resources to break down barriers that stand in the way of starting and growing their businesses. The pitch competition provides opportunities to network with other participants, connect with mentors and investors, and learn about new resources available for entrepreneurs.
We asked the two previous winners of St. Pete Pitch Night to provide some lessons learned from their journeys.
Background: The summer after Miles turned 6, he was watching Shark Week and didn’t like how we treat our oceans and our beaches. After counting from his piggybank and some discussion with his mom, Miles realized that $13 probably wouldn’t have the impact he was hoping for, so they thought of other ways to help. Miles came up with Kids Saving Oceans and he has been selling hats, shirts, stickers, metal straws and straw packs made out of recycled or sustainable materials since December of 2018. Miles donates all of the money he makes to groups that work to protect our oceans and has sent over $15,000 to date to assorted groups like Keep Pinellas Beautiful, Force Blue, The Surfrider Foundation, Black Girls Dive, Mission Blue and others.
Biggest obstacles? The biggest challenge for Miles has been translating his vision for Kids Saving Oceans into a viable and productive business. With only two “staff members” (his two moms who have other actual full time jobs), Kids Saving Oceans has put together an online shop, a full event tabling set up, and dozens of talks for meetings and with politicians. Marketing the business and knowing what events are worth doing has been a matter of trial and error. And, of course, balancing having a business (and having a lot to say about how we can all do better to take care of our environment) with being a kid and making time for 8-year-old kid things will always be a challenge.
What helped the most along the way? Of course, the ceaseless love and support from his “staff” has been a big part of Miles’ success, but that is, as they say, unconditional. From the first event (Localtopia 2019!), the amazing and positive feedback from kids and grown ups and politicians and perfect strangers has been really uplifting. Miles is a reserved kid by nature and the feedback has validated both his passion for saving the oceans and the way his business approaches it, especially after winning St. Pete Pitch Night. In some cases, this support has blossomed into some really great partnerships with groups like Keep Pinellas Beautiful who support all of Miles’ beach and neighborhood clean-up efforts, and with local author Tori McGee who wrote and published a book with Miles earlier this year. In short, the chorus of voices telling Miles that he is doing something important has emboldened his own voice as he speaks up for conservation, whether with a school age girl at his booth or in the Governor’s office in Tallahassee.
Background: Back in February of 2018, when I started Cope Notes, I never expected it to become a company. It was a volunteer project, just like all of the initiatives I had started before it. But as I put more and more time into it, it gained more and more momentum, and I wound up quitting my job to pursue it full-time just 6 months in. While that does seem a little hasty looking back, I am blown away by how many people we’ve been able to help in just a few short years (although they feel long to me at times).
Biggest obstacles? We have never raised capital, I don’t have a technical background, and I don’t have a million connections in the tech world. I come from the mental health side of things, so it has been challenging to break into the tech world without the money/background/influence that other companies may have. To me, it’s always come down to being resourceful. If I know what I can bring to the table, I know what I can’t, and that makes it much easier to connect with people who have complementary skill sets. I just have to be confident in what I can do and honest with myself about what would be better off in someone else’s hands.
What has been most helpful along the way? As you can probably tell from my answer above, other people. I ask for help all the time, and I credit that single habit with a lot of our progress. If I have a legal question, I ask a lawyer. If I have a financial question, I ask a CPA. There is never a penalty for asking a question, and there is always an opportunity to learn something new. The world is full of people who know things that you don’t know, and swallowing your pride for long enough to get an answer is always worth it. If you want to grow your business and help people, your ego is going to have to take a back seat haha.s