Pitch challenge gives manufacturing startups a chance to test their ideas

Dejuan Bringht, who hopes to create an automatic restocking produce shelf to eliminate waste in grocery stores, is one of five winners of the fifth annual MSPIRE pitch challenge sponsored by MAGNET.

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One day, while working a long shift restocking produce at Dave’s Supermarket, Da’Juan Bringht had an epiphany: “What if a robot could do this job?”

The 20-year-old Bringht, who is studying Applied Engineering at Cuyahoga Community College, envisioned a way to eliminate waste and make the restocking process more efficient.

Now, thanks to the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network’s (MAGNET) fifth annual MSPIRE competition, Bringht’s idea of creating an automatic restocking produce shelf could become a reality.

Last month, Bringht was selected to participate in the pitch challenge. His idea, Bringht Line, was named one of the five top winners. “This prize will catapult me and make the next steps easier,” he said.

20-year-old Da’Juan Bringht won a spot in the MSPIRE pitch competition. Photo by Terry Joshua.

20-year-old Da’Juan Bringht won a spot in the MSPIRE pitch competition. Photo by Terry Joshua.

MSPIRE is Northeast Ohio’s only pitch challenge exclusively for product-focused entrepreneurs and small manufacturers. Through the competition, MAGNET also awarded consulting services and cash grants to Argyle Scientific, Bust A Move, eSens, and Rippin Roller.

This year, MSPIRE “received 74 applications from across Northeast Ohio, collectively representing a diversity of geographies, ages, genders, races, and industries present in Northeast Ohio’s entrepreneurial ecosystem,” according to a press release. “Thirty three of the applicants were women and 19 were either African-American or Asian-American.”

Of the 74 applicants, only 10 made it into the final round to pitch their idea in front of 15 judges. The panel of experts included representatives from MAGNET’s engineering team, Venture for AmericaEntrepreneur’s Edge, local manufacturers, HFLA of Northeast Ohio, and other community members who have experience in entrepreneurship or manufacturing. 

“It’s very rare that you will get feedback from 15 people from a wide variety of backgrounds who hear your pitch and ask questions about your manufacturing process, your prototyping process, your marketing strategy, your patent strategy and who your costumer is,” said Alec Simon, MAGNET’s Director of Startup Services. “Asking those tough questions that you may or may not have thought about before is really valuable coming from experts in the industry.”

The five awardees will receive a number of services from MAGNET to move their projects forward, including up to $10,000 in MAGNET engineering services, up to $10,000 in cash, a digital marketing assessment from one of their sponsors, Tenlo, and more. “Our goal isn’t really to pick one winner per se, but really to support the community the best we can,” said Simon. 

Now that the competition is over, each awardee will receive a custom strategy session or engineering session with the MAGNET team to help craft a plan. As part of the support from MAGNET, the companies also get help testing and marketing the product. “We are able to tailor the services according to each company’s needs instead of forcing them into a box,” said Simon.

Due to the pandemic, the entire process was held virtually this year. While it was difficult not being able to have in-person interactions with the judges, Simon thinks this virtual format allowed some people to attend who otherwise might not have been able to because of distance or work commitments. 

For Bringht, the competition opened his eyes to the resources that are available to him. “It is a challenge to get funding,” he said. “There are not a lot of startups that come from Cleveland, especially in tech.”

MAGNET is an underwriter of The Land, helping to support stories about the manufacturing economy in Northeast Ohio.

Claudia Longo is a bilingual freelance writer, translator and social media coordinator who lives in Cleveland with her husband and two children.

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