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Musical businessmen hit home run at FastPitch contest

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Neil Johnson
August 9, 2012

— It's a calculated risk anytime you rip out a guitar solo in front of potential investors, but it seemed to work just fine for area entrepreneurs Brennon Garthwait and David Hartwig.

Hartwig wailed on a Gibson guitar in a three-minute elevator pitch showing off a prototype of a robotically controlled guitar amplifier at the Rock/Walworth County FastPitch Competition on Wednesday.

The Fort Atkinson natives' company, Renwig Custom, took top honors, beating out six other finalists with their product pitch to win a $5,000 prize at the competition at Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville.

The event was an incubation and networking platform for people developing ideas for small businesses, the first of its kind in Rock County.

About 25 entrepreneurs competed at the contest. A consortium of education institutions and economic development groups, including Rock County 5.0, Black Hawk Technical College and UW-Whitewater's Incubation Program, sponsored the event.

The point of the contest was for upstart entrepreneurs to give a panel of judges thorough previews of their products or services and explain how, and to whom, they would market their idea—in just three minutes.

The prize for the two top winners was cash that can be redeemed with local consultants who could help the entrepreneurs continue to grow and develop their business ideas.

Everyone in the competition had the chance to network with other entrepreneurs and consultants from Janesville and UW-Whitewater's Innovation Centers and Beloit College's Center for Entrepreneurship.

Some of the competitors at FastPitch included:

-- Dave Buchner, a Janesville contractor who built "Skydrill" and "Ceiling Hammer," pneumatic tools used to automatically drill and apply fasteners for ceiling construction.

-- James Papke of Rockton, Ill., who invented portable wet-erase signs for sporting events.

-- Henry Schwartz, who heads Mob Craft Brewery, an upstart microbrewery that allows its customers to decide what types of beers the company brews.

"Today is step one for some of these people," said Rock County Economic Development Manager James Otterstein. "The real work is finding out ways to meet their needs."

Some of the services that the winners can make use of include consulting for accounting, marketing and development and distribution, event officials said.

The competition was paid for by State of Ingenuity, a federal grant program through the U.S. Department of Commerce. It is fashioned loosely after ABC's Entrepreneur game show "Shark Tank."

Brian Morello, director of the Beloit College Center for Entrepreneurship, said "elevator pitch" contests get small inventors out of their basement laboratories and in front of experts who can help them tweak their business ideas.

"Some of these guys are still trying to figure out how to make their invention a business. They get stuck," Morello said.

Mike Roncke and Brooke Worzalla of Milwaukee competed in FastPitch to get a better idea of how to market their combination-portable cooler and digital stereo system, the iRockCooler.

The two plan to sell their coolers online, but they're still looking for their target market. They envision selling the coolers to tailgaters, boaters and beachgoers, but an official at FastPitch suggested another potential market: construction workers.

"It's so obvious, but we'd never thought of that," Worzalla said.

Hartwig, a musician and 2011 UW-Whitewater graduate who studied physics and engineering, said his company will use its winnings to further develop its robotic amplifiers.

The amps are designed to allow a player to use footswitches to control volume and tone settings remotely.

The company, which has office space at the Whitewater Innovation Center, has a goal to begin marketing the amps at boutique and upscale guitar shops by mid-2013 or 2014, said Garthwait, a UW-W graduate who studied geography.


 

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