4 local startups compete in latest Tampa Bay Area pitch contest

Every nonprofit struggles with some of the same issues around fundraising. 

What’s the chief problem? Courting large donors while experimenting with innovative opportunities to grow the donor base.

What’s the solution? One way is to harness the power of small donations. 

While large dollar donations are terrific, they tend to dominate the time of development officers and event planners working on galas, golf tourneys and other more traditional fundraising events that tend to appeal to an older crowd.

As charities and other nonprofits look for ways to appeal to the next generation of givers, they are also looking for ways to follow the money into a digitized world where people -- especially young professionals -- are more likely to make a smaller donation online via smart devices, where contributions can add up to big numbers one dollar at a time.

That’s the basic concept behind Harness, a Tampa Bay area startup founded by Andrew Scarborough and Miraj Patel.

Harness is just one of the startups being nurtured by Tampa Bay WaVE that has terrific breakout potential, says WaVE President Linda Olson. 

Without getting too specific, Harness would enable nonprofits to share in a percentage of consumer sales as online and other transactions take place. Say customers could donate 10 percent of every glass of beer purchased to a favorite charity. Soon thousands of single dollars could translate into thousand-dollar donations.

“It’s like accumulating spare change,’’ says Founder Miraj Patel. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. Instead, we’re taking traditional proven fundraising methods and digitizing for the modern market.’’

Among their early clients: Ronald MacDonald House Charities, Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Children’s Miracle Network.

The concept won the hearts and minds of Tampa Bay Rays executives judging presentations by local startups at a recent Tampa Bay WaVE pitch competition at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

Rays executives Stephen Thomas, Director of Community Engagement, Bill Wiener Jr., VP of Employees and Community Engagement, and Jeff Tanzer, Senior Director of Ticket Sales, named Harness the 2016 Grand Slam Pitch Startup Champion. 

“Helping charities raise money has great appeal,’’ Tanzer says. “They get customers promoting them. We think the concept is edgy, innovative.’’ 

A winning process

Competition started in June when 10 of WaVE’s launch-stage companies were matched with volunteer pitch coaches from the CEO Council of Tampa Bay. In early July, a panel of judges representing local investors Stonehenge Capital Partners, Hyde Park Capital and Milford Communications plus Sonya Little, CFO of the City of Tampa, picked four finalists: Harness, iTrekkers, PikMyKid and TOD XL.

The three other finalists presente excellent concepts and pitches, Rays execs agree, as Olson emphasizes that all are poised to break out of WaVE and become profitable in a big way.

The others included:

TOD XL by Reggie Wood and Ashaad Berebee. The simplest way to describe it? Uber for trucks. Ever asked people to borrow their truck or if they can help you move something? No need anymore with Trucks on Demand, which connects you to a truck driver to help move your stuff. 

iTrekkers by Tom Mulliez. A curated website that connects people looking to go on outdoor treks and adventures, such as fishing charters and mountain hiking with guides. 

PikMyKid by Saravana “Pat’’ Bhava. An app designed to help streamline picking up children from school by reducing wait times for parents and work time for school teachers and administrators. 

By being selected the winner, Harness will be throwing the first pitch at a future Rays home game and be given use of a private suite for one game.

This is the second time the Rays have judged a pitch competition for WaVE. The first time was in 2014 when SavvyCard was selected the winner. 
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Read more articles by Diane Egner.

Diane Egner is a community leader and award-winning journalist with more than four decades of experience reporting and writing about the Tampa Bay Area of Florida. She serves on the boards of the University of South Florida Zimmerman School of Advertising & Mass Communications Advisory Council, The Institute for Research in Art (Graphicstudio, the Contemporary Art Museum, and USF’s Public Art Program) Community Advisory Council, Sing Out and Read, and StageWorks Theatre Advisory Council. She also is a member of Leadership Florida and the Athena Society. A graduate of the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism, she won the top statewide award for editorial writing from the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors while at The Tampa Tribune and received special recognition by the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists for creative work as Content Director at WUSF Public Media. Past accomplishments and community service include leadership positions with Tampa Tiger Bay Club, USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy (WLP), Alpha House of Tampa Bay, Awesome Tampa Bay, Florida Kinship Center, AIA Tampa Bay, Powerstories, Arts Council of Hillsborough County, and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. Diane and her husband, Sandy Rief, live in Tampa.