No strikeouts at LaunchPad NYIT pitch night

The judges at LaunchPad NYIT's first pitch night: The event covered all the bases.

By GREGORY ZELLER // LaunchPad NYIT’s first pitch night was a hit.

With an audience of about 100 packing the auditorium inside NYIT’s student innovation center, an entrepreneurial quintet – four from Long Island, one from New Jersey – pitched five very different ideas to a panel of judges, vying for a potentially lucrative appearance before the Long Island Angel Network.

“It shows that the entrepreneurial spirit and ecosystem is alive and well on Long Island,” said Nada Anid, dean of NYIT’s School of Engineering and Computing Sciences. “This is the middle of August and we have a full house. There’s a lot of excitement in the air.”

And plenty of new faces, according to Andrew Hazen, a founder of the LaunchPad chain of coworking spaces and CEO of Hicksville seed fund Angel Dough Ventures. Hazen estimated that a quarter of the attendees were first timers, although regulars – Angel Network chair Michael Faltischek and LISTnet chief Peter Goldsmith chief among them – were also in abundance.

Hazen said he was also thrilled to welcome future pitch-night prospects – “the beauty” of hosting events like this.

Among the audience members who approached him about taking the stage at future events were Joseph “J.J.” Valenti – the Sayville inventor of the J Tray, a stable platform that sits atop ladders and holds supplies for painters and carpenters – and two young men representing an early-stage Nassau tech firm.

“I get a lot of emails,” Hazen said. “I get a lot of phone calls. And a lot of people come up to me at pitch night.”

Hazen and Anid served as judges for the night, alongside NYIT CFO Leonard Aubrey and Craig Kugel of BDS Capital Management in Great Neck.

While the top prize was a future pitch to the Long Island Angel Network, having industry heavyweights in the audience – Faltischek, for instance – promoted all kinds of investment opportunities, Hazen noted.

“Admittedly, somewhat selfishly, these pitch nights are really about finding Long Island companies I can put money into,” Hazen said. “The winners are going to get our time and our advice and a chance to pitch the Angels, but the real winners are the companies that wind up with a check for $20,000 or $50,000 from Angel Dough Ventures.

“I have a good feel for what the (LIAN) board might be interested in, but I can’t speak for every single angel,” Hazen added. “Whoever gets a meeting and a potential check – they’re the real winner.”

Pitches came from Stephanie Lozito of Battleshop, a competitive “fantasy shopping” league that folds online shopping into a fantasy-sports environment and Wanda Lopez of POEM Technology, a maker of “point of entry monitors” that provide wireless sensor data from inside oil tanks, among other places.

John DiMarco of website-maker Portfolio Village also pitched, as did Ramuel Maramara of wave-energy researcher Brimes Energy. Brian Riback, founder of New Jersey-based business consultancy Labrador Connect, was the only non-Island firm to pitch Tuesday night.

And the winners: Battleshop and POEM Technology. Both Lozito and Lopez made “great presentations,” according to Hazen, and both attracted conversations after the event, with “people asking questions and diving deeper into what they’re looking to do.”

While he’s not completely sold on a fantasy-sports game the asks players to fill competitive “carts” with actual retail merchandise – kind of like “combining Candy Crush and Draft Kings,” Hazen noted – there was no doubting Battleshop’s popularity. The Launchpad founder said he unofficially polled female audience members on the concept and received a very strong response.

Although Brimes Energy wasn’t named a top performer on this night, Maramara – who pitched the Angel Network about 18 months ago – “certainly has come a long way,” Hazen said, particularly regarding the transfer of electricity generated by his seafaring devices to land.

Progressive firms like that “need some doors opened, need a lead investor, need someone that’s going to take an interest,” according to Hazen. And that’s the best part of pitch night, he added – not selecting winners, but giving regional entrepreneurialism a big networking push.

“The access you’re able to get, whether it’s to an investor or to an experienced businessperson, is really priceless,” Hazen said. “You never really know who’s coming.”

Anid agreed that the biggest promise of pitch-a-thons hosted by LaunchPad NYIT is creating the potential for a right-place, right-time moment – not only for current inventors and investors, but for the many students in attendance.

“We want to plant that seed,” the dean said. “We want them to think in those terms. We want them to see role models and learn from them, and think ‘I can do this. I can have my own company.’”