Last month, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville played host to the 36|86 South Conference. The conference is reserved for Southern thinkers, dreamers, and believers who dared to be different, saw a need, and met it with witty inventions and innovative ideas.
The two-day event was a collection of festivities, talks, and pitches. The main stage was reserved for panel discussions from speakers such as Jim McKelvey, founder of Square, whose fireside chat was set ablaze with his unique delivery. The atmosphere was cutting edge, and among the talks were thoughts from an all-female entrepreneur panel that shed light on what it’s actually like to be a woman in a male-dominated world.
The panel was made of two startup queens and a businesswoman who had built an empire by empowering other women. Joanne Wilson of Gotham Gal admitted to the many problems that women face but also encouraged female entrepreneurs by citing statistics in favor of the demographic.
These festivities and talks could not, however, overshadow the main event, the pitch competition. Pitch by pitch, startup owners and spokespersons explained their point of view with only minutes to convince an audience why they deserved a shot at the grand prize of $50,000.
In true American spirit, it was up to the people to decide. Instead of Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran, the attendees were the sharks. The audience could vote by sending out tweets, using the 36|86 app, or other means.
One pitch was for Acivilate, a startup company designed to keep Americans safe while assimilating convicts into society. Being Music City, there were a number of music-related applications. Among them was AudioHand, an iOS app that allowed users to record multitracked music in real time.
The winning pitch, however, was from a soccer mom with a startup called Torch, a router designed for families. Torch went from crowdfunding site Kickstarter to write-ups in the Forbes, Fortune, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and Scary Mommy. Torch CEO Shelley Prevost says that winning at 36|86 South was just as significant an accomplishment
“We were thrilled to win the grand prize at this year’s 36|86 pitch competition,” Prevost said. “We have worked tirelessly to build a product that will revolutionize digital parenting, and to see it resonating not only with investors and entrepreneurs but also with those who are parents in the audience is an amazing feeling.
Torch has hopes of expanding and joining forces with churches and educational institutions with the mind to protect the next generation.
“We’d love to be more integrated in the education community,” Creative Director Kate Joy said. “We feel we are natural allies; allowing kids to explore their interests and learn online, safely and within balanced limits.”
It’s clear that 36|86 is giving startups in the South the attention they deserve. With all that it brings to the region, 36|86 is advantageous not only for the creator but also to the curator and the curious.