City catering business wins top prize at innovation pitch night

In an evening full of new ideas, more than 100 people cast their votes and Sandra Carter and her Sixth Street Mini Mart Catering business were named the winner of the first Tom Tom Founders Festival’s “crowd sourced pitch night.”

“I am on a crusade to resurrect my sister’s catering business to see her dream manifested into an establishment that is loved, respected and appreciated among generations to come,” Carter told the audience at the Thursday event. “My sister Denise was an amazing woman who was loved by so many people for her heart and food.”

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Carter’s store, at the intersection of Sixth Street Southeast and Montrose Avenue, sits on the border of the city’s Belmont and Ridge Street neighborhoods.

Audience members paid a $10 entry fee and 10 teams had four minutes each to make a pitch for why their idea deserved the $1,000 grand prize.

Entries included a variety of innovative projects such as a smart phone application to find taxis, a nonprofit giving platform utilizing personal investment accounts, and a team of University of Virginia students launching a “micro-volunteering” resource platform.

Carter said winning the prize money would help her family buy new equipment for catering and take care of some legal work necessary for the business.

Kathy Matthew, owner of Natre’al Hair Design, is a friend and classmate of Carter’s in the Community Investment Collaborative , a local initiative providing training, funding and mentoring to entrepreneurs.

“It makes me think of how much Sandra has matured over the years,” Matthew said. “If her sister was here, she would be so proud. Her sister taught her so much.”

Charlottesville resident Ross McDermott took his marble, used for voting, and placed it in the mason jar representing Carter’s catering business.

“I see her project as really targeting a need for lower income and underserved populations in Charlottesville,” McDermott said. “I like that the festival is generating events like this, and I think that it could, and hope that it will, do even more for the community in the future.”

Carter said she plans to renovate the store and its offerings in addition to launching the catering business.

“Right now most of our revenue comes from sales of alcohol and tobacco, and my mission is to change that to good healthy food for children and adults,” Carter said.

The pitch night event was so well attended, Tom Tom co-founder Oliver Platts-Mills quickly moved from a fear of being short of prize money to having almost $400 extra to give a second place winner. That prize was taken by the UVa students building the micro-volunteering website.

In their pitch, third-year students Chris Jones and Stephanie Maxwell said their project would match nonprofit organizations with community members who can complete small high-skill tasks, such as configuring a computer network.

“I thought they had a sustainable model,” said Charlottesville attorney Lloyd Snook, who voted for the students. “I have been involved in running nonprofit organizations, and every business has these challenges.”

“The whole crowd sourcing idea is a way to get bottom-up thinking about how to improve the community,” Snook added.

Platts-Mills gave credit to UVa student Kevin Pujanauski for coming up with the idea for a crowd-sourced pitch night.

“Kevin had this brilliant idea for [tonight’s] event … and we are going to try and do more of these,” Platts-Mills said.

In the audience, Kyle Bye, a second-year UVa student, said he appreciated the Tom Tom festival’s focus on innovation in addition to music. Bye is president of the Entrepreneurship Group at the McIntire School of Commerce.

“It’s cool to be at a university where entrepreneurship is on fire, both at UVa and in Charlottesville,” Bye said. “It’s a great way to bring everyone together.”

The next event in the Tom Tom innovation series will be held Wednesday at The Gleason , at 126 Garrett St. The panel discussion will focus on how social media is being utilized by local technology businesses.

Follow the innovation series at .