PITTSFIELD — Kaitlyn Pierce has spent the last several years developing, refining and trying to sell a product that she invented to help wean young children from their pacifiers.
The Pittsfield resident, who has been working on her project for almost two years, currently needs more money for marketing her product.
On Tuesday night, she received $1,500 for just that purpose during Entrepreneurship For All's first Berkshire County pitch contest.
Pierce's project, a stuffed animal called "Binka Bear," not only received $1,000 for winning the grand prize at the contest held at Berkshire Museum; it also won an additional $500 for capturing the prize for fan favorite. The grand prize winner was selected by a panel of six judges, while the fan favorite was chosen by voting from the over 100 people in attendance, who texted in their preferences.
Standing on the stage as her two young daughters jumped around her in joy, Pierce thanked the crowd for supporting her idea.
"This really will help more than you know," she said.
Winning the money was gratifying, Pierce said.
"But what's exciting is to have the validation of the idea," she added. "That's why winning the fan favorite is a big deal."
Binka Bear is a plush toy bear that can hold pacifiers in its specially laced up paws. It comes with an illustrated children's story book that Pierce wrote herself. The book describes how Binka Bear receives magic when pacifiers are placed in its paws.
Pierce came up with the idea in 2016 while trying to wean her oldest daughter, Sylvia, off her pacifier. Her daughter liked stuffed animals and liked to hold her pacifiers as much as put them in her mouth. Pierce decided to create a stuffed animal that could hold the pacifiers while her daughter slept. The story explains why the bear needs to hold the pacifiers in the first place.
Each of the eight participants in Tuesday night's event were given two and a half minutes to deliver their pitches. Pierce's project is further along than some of the other proposals, many of which sounded more like concepts and didn't have an actual product to present. Her pitch "wowed" the judges, according to judge Evan Valenti.
"Unbelievable presentation," Valenti said. "She's got everything down; the packaging, a warehouse in California. ... She's really far along. I thought she had everything clearly thought out."
Pierce, who originally sought funding for Binka Bear on the online funding platform Kickstarter, has a product to sell, a warehouse to sell it out of, customers who have have purchased Binka Bear and others who are interested in buying. What she needs now is funding to help Binka Bear reach a larger audience.
"Right now we have orders and we've started shipping, but at this point I'm trying to market this to gift guides," Pierce said.
Finishing second was 413 Bubbly, of Pittsfield, a business owned by six women that provides customized celebrations for consumers. It received $750. Bottomless Bricks, of Adams, a family-owned Lego party and events business, received $500 for finishing third.
Six of the eight companies that delivered pitches Tuesday were chosen to compete by a group of EforAll volunteers who voted for their favorites after reading the summaries posted by the 12 finalists online. Some 40 to 50 "readers" had viewed those summaries, and each proposal had been read "at least six times," said EforAll representative Casey O'Donnell.
Of the two additional presenters, one was chosen based on voting by Tuesday night's participants at a networking and showcase session featuring 11 finalists that preceded the pitch contest. Attendees chose 413 Bubbly as the "table favorite." The eighth presenter, known as the wild card, was picked at random from a bowl filled with the names of the remaining contestants.
EforAll is a nonprofit organization that partners with communities nationwide to assist under-resourced individuals successfully start and grow businesses through intensive business training, mentorship and an extended professional support network. The organization currently has eight other regional programs in Massachusetts, and a ninth in Longmont, Colo.
Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-496-6224.
The name of the event was Entrepreneurship for All. An original version of this story was incorrect.