One of the region’s most highly-esteemed and exclusive events — Pipeline’s Innovator of the Year — is set for this Thursday in Kansas City.
Attracting some of the most powerful businesspeople in the Midwest, IOTY is one part pitch competition, two parts black-tie gala and four parts party. It’s a cocktail of entrepreneurial energy, and one that you shouldn’t miss for either its entertainment or hobnobbing value. But if you must miss it, follow Startland on Twitter for play-by-play coverage.
Simply put, IOTY crushes the notion of traditionally dull business soirees and replaces it with a day of merrymaking among the region’s boldest and brightest.
I’ve covered the event for the past three years and, somehow, Pipeline CEO Joni Cobb and the her team outdo themselves each consecutive year. This year — the ninth-annual IOTY celebration — isn’t likely to buck that trend, featuring an edgy, tattoo-inspired theme that’d make Ed Hardy blush. (As part of a marketing push, Pipeline doled out temporary tattoos for supporters to emblazon upon themselves before sharing on social media.)
For background, the Pipeline Entrepreneurial Fellowship is a leadership development program that was founded in 2006 and expanded to become a regional organization in 2013. With an alumni network of about 100 members in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa, Pipeline is built on the concept of family.
But Pipeline’s true power is in its network and friendly-but-spirited competitiveness among fellows. When one fellow is down, another three are there to help him or her up. When one needs a connection to the Missouri market, a herd offers contact lists to Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia. As a journalist, it’s been impressive to see this organization operate as a team and to cover its entrepreneurs as individuals.
Here’s more on what to expect on Thursday:
Pitch Competition, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Kansas City’s Alamo Drafthouse will host the 2015 graduating fellows for a pitch bout before a national panel of judges, investors and supporters from the region. Four Kansas City entrepreneurs — VideoFizz founder Laura Steward, FitBark founder Davide Rossi, T.Loft founder Jill Minton and Rawxies founder Callie England — will represent the City of Fountains.
Judges for the 2015 class are TechCrunch writer Anthony Ha, Think Ireland Inc. co-founder Maree Helena and Results Junkies founder Paul Singh. In a first for IOTY, students from four regional universities will present their startups intermittently throughout the competition.
Learn more about the pitch competition format here. Follow Startland’s Twitter feed for a play-by-play of the competition.
Evening Gala 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Capped at 600 attendees, the black-tie gala is a swanky affair that mixes networking, dinner, entertainment and an awards ceremony. If you haven’t already bought a ticket or table to the Midland Theatre-hosted event, you’re unfortunately out of luck.
Entrepreneurs, investors, media and other high-ranking businesspeople sip cocktails as Pipeline fellows and alumni perform in skits and videos. The debonair event features laughter, tears and the latest in fashion.
Follow Startland’s Twitter feed for a play-by-play of the evening.
Awards and announcements
Each year the Pipeline crew dishes out a host of awards at IOTY for current fellows and alumni.
Top Pitch: This award goes to the best pitch of the day. Four entrepreneurs hail from Kansas City, four from St. Louis, two from Omaha, and one each from Wichita, Manhattan and Lincoln. Last year this award went to Alicia Herald, founder of St. Louis-based MyEdMatch.
The Pipeline Member Growth Award: This award recognizes a Pipeline member for growing his or her business, be it in revenue, capital raised, creation of high-salaried jobs, new ventures or innovation.
The Pipeline Member Inspiration Award: This award recognizes outstanding contributions by a Pipeline member to the organization and its peers.
The Entrepreneurial Leadership Award: This award goes to a Pipeline supporter who has contributed to the organization in a meaningful way, whether through mentoring, strategic investment or working to expand the impact of the program for the region.
Innovator of the Year: This is the top prize of the evening, and the winner is showered with hugs and praise as well as remembered in Pipeline lore. The award is based on three components — performance during the Pipeline year, scores from founders’ retooled business plans after the Pipeline fellowship and presentations given during the pitch contest. Last year this award went to Alicia Herald, founder of St. Louis-based MyEdMatch.
The 2016 Fellowship Class: Pipeline also uses the IOTY night as an opportunity to introduce new faces. The organization welcomes around 10 founders from the region into its upcoming class in style. Look for further updates on this from Startland.