The Pitch: Start-up businesses make their case for funds one week from tonight at Co.Lab

Photographed on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn., Kelli Munczenski talks about her startup business, "Sawdust and Sod." The company plan is for a web-based service connecting contractors with people who have home remodeling needs.
photo Photographed on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn., Kelli Munczenski talks about her startup business, "Sawdust and Sod." The company plan is for a web-based service connecting contractors with people who have home remodeling needs.

Making a pitch

Startups that will make a pitch at Pitch Night:› Precision Fabworks LLCChuck MasonPrecision Fabworks will design and fabricate structures, systems, piping and equipment through modular construction techniques that reduce costs when building chemical process | @pfabworks› Renovare DistilleryKeith McConnellRenovare Distillery will produce premium craft spirits made with local grains that showcases regional farmers. @renovarewhisky› Local LoyaltyBrandon EllisLocal Loyalty is a mobile app that reduces the burden of lost loyalty cards for customers and can increase sales for small business | @localmotivecha› Leadership From the CoreMarcel SchwantesLeadership From the Core is developing a servant leadership online training platform with one core purpose: creating healthy and engaged cultures that lead to high performance and bottom-line | @ExecCoachMarcel› RumRunnerJuan AlexanderRumRunner is positioning itself to be Chattanooga’s first delivery service that offers both food and | @rumrunapp› PanelaChristian Patino and John LeePanela is conducting taste tests for its ten unique flavors of USDA Certified organic cane sugar as an alternative to artificial sweetners or unflavored sugar products that typically accompany popular hot beverages such as tea or coffee.› industrial Strength DronesRobby RobinsonIndustrial Strength Drones is launching an online marketplace where businesses can save time and money when searching for both the best industrial drones and pilots for their needs.@isdrones› Smart Garden ProjectDaniel LeakeMy Smart Garden makes hydroponic management easier with smartphone apps that provide on-going monitoring services through its sensor | @smartgardenproj› Sawdust+SodKelli MunczenskiSawdust+Sod is an online marketplace where home service providers can connect homeowners in need of home improvements to schedule a | @SawdustAndSod› PositiffiteaTiffany MalapanesPositiffitea is a fair-trade, local herbal tea blending company that uses 100 percent organic ingredients that also organizes enthusiasts through community-building | @positiffitea› Reunion YarnEmily and Michael FelixReunion Yarn Co. uses minimal electricity and water to unravel second-hand sweaters into beautiful skeins of yarn for knitters, crocheters, and | @reunionyarn

Kelli Munczenski will stand before a crowd of potential investors one week from tonight and ask for $250,000 to fund her startup business - which she launched after a sewer pipe broke in her backyard a year and a half ago.

That broken sewer pipe - and the headache involved in finding someone to fix it - inspired Munczenski to quit her day job as an assistant vice president at Robert Half Finance and Accounting in downtown Chattanooga and launch Sawdust+ Sod, a web-based business that she says will "democratize" home improvement and help connect people with local contractors.

"No question, the home improvement process is a nightmare. It takes forever to cull through thousands of options, get quotes, schedule the work, etc.," said Munczenski, who believes her website,, and app will help fix that.

Munczenski will be among entrepreneurs from 11 companies who will give a five-minute sales pitch at Pitch Night held by the Company Lab (Co.Lab) that starts at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 27 on the fifth floor of the Edney Building at 11th and Market streets.

All the participants graduated from Co.Lab's fall accelerator, a "100-day program for entrepreneurs who are fully focused on scaling their startup."

"Scaling" means taking the service to a wider audience. Munczenski says her business will scale.

At first, she plans to roll out Sawdust+Sod in the greater Chattanooga. Her sole employee, Taylor Davidson, has contacted about 100 Chattanooga-area contractors who can do everything from emergency plumbing repairs to painting, foundation work, HVAC, flooring, landscaping, handyman work and more. As Sawdust+Sod expands, it would hire people in other markets to line up contractors, as Davidson has done here.

Sawdust+Sod's software will integrate with social networks, such as Facebook, Munczenski said. So if a homeowner is curious about a contractor, she said. "you'll see if anybody in your networks hired him - we basically automate word of mouth."

It doesn't cost anything for contractors to get on Sawdust+Sod, and it's free for people to use the site to look for contractors.

Sawdust+Sod will make money when people use the site to hire a contractor. Sawdust+Sod will get a percentage, from a maximum of 20 percent for an emergency repair to a smaller percentage for a smaller job. Sawdust+Sod should start making money right away, Munczenski said, if the 100 contractors who've been lined up find work through the website.

"They would only have to book two jobs a week through our website for us to make $1 million in revenue," Munczenski said.

Munczenski says she didn't know anything about home repair or Internet commerce when she decided to pursue her startup idea.

But technical skills aren't all it takes to be an entrepreneur, according to Alex Lavidge, the entrepreneur in residence at Co.Lab who oversees its accelerator program. People who launch startups, he said, fall into three archetypes: entrepreneurs who see the big picture, businesspeople who understand business processes and technicians who can do such tasks as coding.

"She went through a very painful home repair experience and said, 'Something's got to be done about this,'" Lavidge said.

He expects 200 to 300 people will come to Pitch Night, which is free and features refreshments, an open bar and a chance to mingle before and afterward with the 11 entrepreneurs. Pitch Night had been scheduled for today, but Co.Lab decided to postpone it for a week due to the threat of inclement weather.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or or or 423-757-6651.