published Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Fifteen entrepreneurs pitch their big ideas in Chattanooga to win $250,000 investment

Crystal Reel, front, and Jenny Loyd work Thursday at SupplyHog.
Crystal Reel, front, and Jenny Loyd work Thursday at SupplyHog.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

Outside of Monty Python's Holy Grail universe, there are very few instances in which it makes sense to ask whether something — or someone — will float.

Most fans of British comedy know that rocks sink, but witches float.

But discussion this week will turn from medieval superstition to business ideas, as more than 400 regional innovators and entrepreneurs will decide which business ideas in Chattanooga will float, and which will sink.

Will This Float, abbreviated WTF, will showcase 15 startup business entrepreneurs as they pitch their next big idea to a panel of judges. The best idea gets a chance at a $250,000 investment through a Silicon Valley-based firm named 500 Startups.

Chattanooga-based SupplyHog, which won the competition last year, is already making money, said event organizer Enoch Elwell, and is launching its online building supply model throughout the country.

"This event is not just for tech ideas; it is a showcase of the many exciting business ideas springing up across the region," Elwell said.

The real draw, however, will be individual presenters like Mykas Degesys.

Degesys has a business plan to throw the already-changing world of music into turmoil.

Record labels are already struggling to keep up with the evolution in consumer taste from CDs, to MP3s, to Pandora and now to Spotify, an online service that lets users stream almost any song for free to a PC, or with a subscription to a mobile device.

"The people going to these streaming platforms are increasing at a rate of 40 percent, while digital downloads are growing at just 8 to 9 percent," Degesys said.

Degesys is in the process of building an app that lets artists track how frequently users play their songs, using algorithms to determine when a listener is ready to buy the full album.

"We can help identify the critical point where they're most likely to spend money on an artist," he said.

His isn't the only new idea on the horizon.

Melanie Villegas will present her idea to sell tire art.

Brandon Mihai is building an app that aggregates Facebook, Google, Twitter and Instagram feeds.

Cory Wiles is designing a mobile app that creates a soundtrack of a user's life events.

Evangeline Watanabe wants to sell special organic smoothies marketed to pregnant women.

There will be a lot of groundbreaking ideas, to be sure. But turning a daydream into a dollar takes more than just a flash of brilliance, Degesys said.

"Everyone's got a great idea, but it's the team that gets it done," he said. "Have you figured out your model? Have you figured out your market? Do you have momentum? That's the best way to separate yourself from the competition."

Not all the competitors are that far along, yet.

Tony Cain, for instance, is a little closer to the beginning than he is to the end.

Cain wants to build an urban farm -- a vertical, hydroponic vegetable garden controlled by mobile device. Plans call for a vegetarian version of a server farm, where individuals will be able to buy space in the warehouse and will be able to remotely water their plants. Customers will receive updates when their plants are ready to be picked, when they've been fertilized or if some action is needed on their part.

Plus, users will be able to travel to their hydroponic garden to pick their vegetables whenever they want.

"People want to have a garden and grow their own food, but they don't have the space or time to maintain it," Cain said.

He estimates that people spend about $240 per month on food, so he's hoping to offer a month's worth of vegetables for $100 per month.

"We're looking at making it less than the average people spend on food per month," Cain said of his hydroponic garden. "We think it'll float."

Organizers will host the competition on the renovated fourth floor of The Public Library, 1001 Broad St., at 6 p.m. Nov. 15, showing off the newly refurbished space as part of the fun.

The full-on multimedia presentation, which comes on the heels of The Company Lab's well-received Gig Tank extravaganza this summer, will feature lights that dance on the walls in response to tweets, among other visual flairs.

Will This Float represents the first official public unveiling of the new space, which is designed for tech-focused entrepreneurs, Elwell said.

"Like every event we do, we're trying to showcase all the exciting things happening in town," Elwell said. "You're going to hear the most interesting ideas you've heard in a long time, you're going to meet the most interesting people in Chattanooga and you're going to be blown away by an awesome party event that's going to be a ton of fun."

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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