It was just before lunch at the inaugural Good Business Summit on Thursday, and three local social entrepreneurs had delivered their pitches to a panel of veteran businessmen.
Lowcountry Local First executive director Jamee Haley, the event’s hostess, turned to the crowd sitting in the Charleston Museum auditorium and asked, hopefully, if there was anyone else who wanted to present an idea.
After a pause, Emilee Cleary piped up, and made her way to the microphone. Cleary had been among the first to arrive at the event, but she sat on the side, many rows up from the stage.
The stay-at-home mom and fiancée of prominent Charleston chef Mike Lata recently launched a children’s clothing business with a friend and had come to learn a thing or two. But then this opportunity arose to publicize Hendrix + Henry (named after their kids) and get some real feedback.
Cleary explained how she and her stay-at-home-dad business partner had noticed how their kids’ clothes were cheap and that many toys were too big and always scattered or dirty. Their “light bulb moment” was to combine clothes and toys into a kind of “learning jean,” with features like color-coded Velcro ABC’s or bees on the knees.
“And the activity and stimulation they’re seeking is right there on their pants,” Cleary said, adding the trousers would be sustainably made in America.
It was a hit. The audience laughed, and the panelists dug right in.
“I love the concept and I’d love to see a prototype,” said Robert New, a Charleston businessman who owns a stevedoring operation and has five children of his own. He told Cleary she now needs to work out her company’s costs, figure out distribution and raise capital.
Patrick Bryant, another local serial entrepreneur who has founded video production and cigar businesses among others, suggested she target a high-end customer base. And Bryant’s business partner, Dave Brown, said not to worry about intellectual property protection, just get to market first.
“Ok, Cleary said, clearly energized by the exchange. “Go time.”
That was the spirit of Thursday’s event, where about 80 local entrepreneurs gathered at the museum to talk about “redefining business as usual.”
Before the pitches, John Smith, chief product officer at Daniel Island software firm SPARC, led a panel discussion on company culture, the idea that a more enjoyable work environment can boost profits.
Paul Saginaw said he ends every meeting at his Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Zingerman’s group of businesses with “appreciation.”
“It’s amazing how that builds within the organization,” he said.
Later, Saginaw spoke about alternative business models, while others held forth on telling your business’s story and localizing your supply chain.
Anna Hamilton of the Lowcountry Housing Trust announced a Healthy Food Business Challenge, wherein the group will provide $25,000 and up to $500,000 in other financing for a venture that helps solve the problem of “food deserts” in underserved areas. Applications are due early next year, and a winner will be announced in May.
Haley seemed pleased with the buzz her nonprofit’s first summit was generating and said, while it’s contingent on demand, she hopes “it will be a continuing, ongoing thing.”
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906.