2023 Pitch It Texarkana

photos by Matt Cornelius
photos by Matt Cornelius

2023 Pitch It Texarkana

Imagine if Texarkana, USA, were a magnet for talent and entrepreneurship in our region. Bright young minds would see a tangible path to success after graduating from our schools, local businesses would have no shortage of eager and industrious recruits, an infectious startup culture would permeate our community, and hometown ingenuity would start to look a lot more like big city innovation.

Pitch It Texarkana is a collaborative effort to turn strategic thinking into strategic doing. Born out of a desire to foster new business opportunities in Texarkana, USA, this grassroots project—an entrepreneurial idea audition—aims to inspire go-getters who have dreams of starting their own companies and introduce them to community leaders who could be instrumental in helping turn their dreams into reality.

Jesse Darby-Tillis II presents his idea to the 2022 Pitch It Texarkana judges.

Lesley Ledwell Dukelow was, and continues to be, one of the driving forces behind the initiative. “Pitch It Texarkana all started from Leadership Texarkana’s Strategic Doing Initiative a few years ago,” Dukelow said. “A group of 90 community people who were interested in making Texarkana better got together for a half-day workshop on Strategic Doing. At the end, we separated into groups to come up with projects to focus on our overarching framework question—Imagine Texarkana, USA, as a magnet for talent and entrepreneurship for our region. What would that look like?”

The underlying Strategic Doing model of community success that inspired last year’s inaugural Pitch It event teaches people how to uncover their hidden assets, form a network of collaborations quickly, and advance toward measurable outcomes. The discipline of non-hierarchical cooperation was the very reason why a group of local community members came together to launch Pitch It Texarkana in the first place. By linking and leveraging various resources, the group sought to create an opportunity for local individuals to think outside the box and achieve success within the business community.

Red River Federal Credit Union President/CEO Brad Bailey presents Jesse Darby-Tillis II with the first place check.

Similar to the popular TV show Shark Tank, contestants have the opportunity to pitch business startup ideas in three minutes or less to a panel of local entrepreneurs. PowerPoint presentations and formal business plans are not allowed so that there’s more space for the contestant and his/her idea to shine. The judges’ rubric is even posted on the Pitch It website so that everyone has an equal opportunity to prepare their pitch and sharpen their communication skills. At the end of the competition, the highest scoring contestant will be awarded a $7,500 cash prize, while second and third-place winners will be awarded $5,000 and $2,500 respectively.

Pitch It Texarkana’s goal is to support budding entrepreneurs who want to start businesses here locally to help grow Texarkana’s jobs and wealth. “Last year during our inaugural Pitch It Texarkana competition, we heard some very cool pitches for new and needed businesses for our area,” Dukelow said. “We want to be the push that brings these ideas to fruition and, at the same time, remind people that starting your own business doesn’t have to be just a dream—that Pitch It and other organizations in town are here to help.”

The top five finalists for 2022 Pitch It Texarkana: Jorge Morales, Brittney Haynes, Jesse Darby-Tillis II, Antony Hopkins, and Ren Overlock.

At last year’s inaugural event, the top prize went to contestant Jesse Darby-Tillis II for his e-sports gaming lounge idea. Darby-Tillis wowed the judges by explaining how a local brick and mortar space would allow gamers of all skill levels to gather and compete while simultaneously offering positive skill-building activities for Texarkana’s youth. Second-place winner Ren Overlock manufactured a ratchet strap prototype for trucks and trailers that regularly tie down cargo loads. Brittney Haynes, the third-place winner of the 2022 competition, imagined a zero waste/refill store in Texarkana with the dream of providing an eco-friendly alternative to shopping for household products like laundry detergent without all the excess packaging and toxic plastics.

“Pitch It Texarkana will ideally become part of the fabric of our community, supporting and nurturing business ideas and the people with the passion and ambition to grow Texarkana,” Dukelow said.

The next round of the Pitch It Texarkana entrepreneurial idea competition is Thursday, March 30, 2023, at Crossties Event Venue in downtown Texarkana. For more information and to sign up for your chance to win $7,500 in just three short minutes, apply today at pitchittexarkana.com.

2022 Pitch It Texarkana commitee members and volunteers—(l-r) front: Natalie Haywood and Robbin Bass; back: Judy Morgan, Mel Walsh, Lisa Sitterley, Lesley Dukelow, Trish Reed, and Patricia Cunningham.

Meet 2022 Pitch It Texarkana Winner Jesse Darby-Tillis II

What inspired you to compete in the Pitch It competition?

North Texas Small Business Develpment Center (SBDC) suggested I should compete. They thought it would be beneficial to my business.

What have you done related to your pitch since winning in 2022?

I have talked to several banks and investors. I’ve also started two e-sports scholarships through
Texas A&M University-Texarkana and hosted a few video game tournaments to promote my idea. I have also spoken to many schools about their e-sports programs.

What does the future look like for you?

2024 looks like I will have the video game lounge with several video game tournaments and several schools competing in the Texarkana area.


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