Last year’s Innovator of the Year, Alicia Herald, put winning the Pipeline Entrepreneurial Fellowship Program’s marquee award into perspective.
“I think it’s a fun title, and you get a beautiful celebratory bowl,” said Herald, CEO of myEDmatch. “But internally amongst the Pipeline family, we think of the event as the celebration of how far all of the companies have come over the course of the year,” she said.
Herald was on hand for this year’s event, held Thursday at the Alamo Drafthouse. Thirteen Pipeline entrepreneurs from the around the Midwest, known as Fellows, took turns pitching their business models and fielding questions from a panel of judges inside Alamo’s Chesterfield Room.
One Fellow from this year’s class, Laura Steward, shared Herald’s sentiments. Winning the title is not what the event is all about.
“Which is unusual,” Steward said. “Usually, I have a horribly competitive spirit, and I want to win at all costs. But I’ve funded my business, I have made twelve new friends, (the Fellows,) I am proud of everyone in the class, so I could give a rat’s (behind) about winning,” she said. “I’ve already won.”
Well, not so fast, says Fellow Mark Zmarzly with a smile.
“All entrepreneurs are competitive,” Zmarzly said. “So to win Innovator of the Year would be a great honor.”
Zmarzly would not pick up the top honor on this evening, but walked away with the event’s Pitch of the Year award.
Founded in Kansas in 2006, Pipeline is an entrepreneurial community funded in part by the Kauffman Foundation, whose main goal is “powering the Midwest economy through high-performance entrepreneurs,” according to its website. Unlike most entrepreneurial incubators, Pipeline does not take equity from members in exchange for guidance or money.
“Pipeline is different from other incubators in that it focuses on the individual and developing them to be the most successful he or she can be,” Fellow Lu Alleruzzo said moments before he took the stage for his turn in front of the judges. “They are just a really unique organization dedicated to making sure that entrepreneurs succeed.”
Each year approximately 10-12 new entrepreneurs are invited to join Pipeline as Fellows. After an extensive selection process, new Fellows participate in a unique and rigorous year-long business leadership development program that blends workshop modules, advice from national experts, and a deepening of the relationships among new and current Pipeline Members, according to a news release. It all culminates at the end of the year event.
After the day’s presentations came the night’s gala at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland. The judges announced Fellow Dusty Reynolds, co-founder of RaceNote, a motorsports management company, had won the Pipeline Innovator of the Year honors.
Reynolds spoke of the camaraderie and pride he shared with the Pipeline group as being the biggest prize.
“I am speechless,” he said over the phone on Friday. “Not because I didn’t think I could win last night, but because there is so much moxie and talent in my group. Just to be a part of Pipeline is a win, and this, this is just icing on the cake.”
John Martens, NMotion UAS, Wichita. Laura Steward, Video Fizz, Kansas City. Davide Rossi, FitBark, Kansas City. Jill Minton, T. Loft, Kansas City. Chris Motley, Better Weekdays, St. Louis. Mark Zmarzly, Hip Pocket, Lincoln. Dusty Reynolds, RaceNote, Omaha. Aaron McKee, Purple Wave, Manhattan. Jen Amis, Encounter Telehealth, Omaha. Lu Alleruzzo, Immunophotonics, St. Louis. Dan Lohman, Pushup Social, St. Louis. Callie England, Rawxies, Kansas City. Jeffry Harrison, Rovertown, St. Louis.