Competition runs deep as annual ‘RipTide’ returns

Wick fix: Winning last year's RipTide business-plan competition made all the difference for Mattituck-based Wick & Wine Candle Co., accourding to owner Jon Demo.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A business plan pitch-a-thon with real pull is returning to the Hamptons.

i-Hamptons – the professional networking community that brought you The Spur and Spur East, members-only “entrepreneur’s clubs” aimed at East End impresarios – is diving back into business-building waters with its annual “Shark Tank”-like business plan competition, “RipTide: Sink or Swim.”

This year’s Riptide III (unofficially updated as “$ink or $wim”) is set to distribute some $50,000 in grant awards, business-building services and mentorship opportunities to early-stage enterprises that survive an application gauntlet – and wow the judges in a live-event final round.

Open to Suffolk County-based businesses, Riptide III will accept applications through Sept. 25, with a special focus on startups in the health, wellness, food, hospitality, media, technology, retail and consumer-product industries.

The qualifications are fairly tight: Applicant companies must be less than two years old; they must have so far grossed less than $50,000 in total revenues; and their owners must have earned less than $50,000 in salary for each of the past two years.

Ashley Heather: Back in the swim.

But the spoils can be destiny-changing for the right entrepreneur, according to i-Hamptons founder Ashley John Heather, who’s made it his personal mission to build a support system for East End entrepreneurs.

“It is great to see this innovation community continue to grow on the East End,” said Heather, who launched The Spur – part co-working space, part business-resource network, part social club – in a temporary home in late 2017, moved it into its permanent Southampton space in 2018 and christened East Hampton-based Spur East (complete with ping pong lounge) earlier this year.

“Through The Spur, we continue to work year-round with East End entrepreneurs who are transforming local ideas into national businesses,” Heather added.

That includes the Mattituck-based Wick & Wine Candle Co., which captured the $20,000 grand prize package in last year’s RipTide event and put the winnings to good use, according to founder Jon Demo.

“With much-needed financial support and mentorship from The Spur, I was able to bring my company to the next level, feel confident about it and thrive in a competitive market,” Demo said this week. “I used the $20,000 to hire employees and stock inventory, which helped grow my accounts from 12 stores in two states to 43 stores in 10 states.

“Now I have big box stores and shopping networks knocking at my door,” he added. “Winning RipTide gave my company the exact boost it needed.”

This year’s winner will have a substantial hill to climb (or ocean to swim). After an in-house i-Hamptons panel whittles down the applicant pool to a best-bet semifinal pool, those survivors will be required to submit a two-minute pitch video (they’ll also be invited to a Sept. 30 video-presentation workshop at Spur East, including direct consultation with experienced video producers).

The entry videos will be posted online for a public vote slated to run Oct. 9 to Oct. 30, and the top four vote-getters will finally square off – five-minute presentation, 10-minute Q&A – before a panel of seasoned business professionals (and a live audience), with the $50,000 grand prize on the line.

The grand finale event, scheduled for Nov. 9 at the Southampton Arts Center, will also include a regional innovation showcase highlighting past RipTide winners and other local entrepreneurs – making Chapter Three of the “Sink or Swim” saga the biggest and most impressive yet, according to Heather.

“Like they say in the restaurant business, if you are around for more than one year, you are doing something right,” the Spur founded noted. “I am delighted that our RipTide venture competition is back for its third installment.”