Entrepreneurs get spotlight, feedback at Columbia pitch contest

Hunter Middleton woke up at 5:58 Friday morning, dressed up in a suit and leather shoes, and practiced again to be fully comfortable with the presentation he would deliver later that day at the Ignition Pitch Competition.

A student at Kingdom Christian Academy in Fulton, Middleton competed in the high school division of the fifth annual pitch contest, hosted by Columbia’s Regional Economic Development Inc. The competition, held at Columbia College, also featured a community and college division that drew 13 presenters.

Middleton drove from Fulton with his grandfather, a former truck driver who inspired him to establish Freight Care, a health care app especially for truck drivers to get fast and safe medical treatment while they’re on the job. “When you sit all day and drive, you can’t develop health issues,” Middleton said, noting the number of truckers traversing U.S. roadways each day. “The market is there.”

Middleton and his friend, Tom Green, a student at Jefferson City High School, polished the idea for Freight Care together. “I’ve been wanting to start a business and being an entrepreneur for a year,” Green said, “and now finally I’m able to do that.”

Freight Care won first place in the high school division, taking home $500. University of Missouri student Connor Hall took the $6,000 top prize in the community and college division with EpicEd, an idea for camps and leagues based around video gaming.

“We are very excited about the market that they are in, and we see it’s a very rapidly growing space,” said Scott Darymple, president of Columbia College and one of the four judges. “And they seemed to have a very exciting take on it, on how do they find ways to appeal to the market of gamers and even their parents.”

Six of the 15 total pitches centered around health and wellness, from fitness to food to medical treatment.

Jack Jones’ idea was one of them. Jones graduated from MU six years ago with an accounting degree. Working as an accountant after graduation, he once uploaded a video about body shape and fitness at home and got half a million views.

That experience inspired him to pursue video fitness instruction as a career. He established his own website, TheHealthyGamer.com, and now works full-time on the project.

“Eventually the goal of it would be to take Healthy Gamer and develop it out in the Chinese market,” Jones said, “because I think there will be a great need there.”

The importance of entrepreneurs addressing a need in the market was an idea echoed by Rebecca Gubbels, a consultant for the UMKC Small Business and Technology Development Center and one of the pitch competition judges.

“(Build) a very clear demonstration of what problem you are solving; how many people have that problem; how many people would pay how much money to solve that problem; all your revenue streams; all your costs and the resulting profits,” Gubbels said.

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