Rachel Shapiro and Samantha Lewis have an idea. The New York City F&B vets want to disrupt the online dining recommendation world with a chef-driven platform. A site where you could click from Sean Brock to Mike Lata’s top 10 Charleston recs then toggle over to see Alon Shaya and Leah Chase’s NOLA’s best list.

“Essentially, we will be providing access to industry experts and chefs by way of their restaurant recommendations with the hope being that when people are able to access the most reliable information from the most credible resources when deciding what to eat and what to buy, it will be very engaging,” says Shapiro.

The women have a business plan and a marketing strategy, now they need to pitch it. That’s where Randi Weinstein’s FAB Conference comes in.

For this year’s two-day hospitality conference for women, Weinstein has developed Pitch It!, a program to give female entrepreneurs an opportunity to vet their business concepts with a 10 person panel of experts. In advance of the June 10-12 conference, a group of six teams have been selected to work with a marketing strategist before privately pitching their ideas.

Shapiro and Lewis are part of that exclusive group, a rare opportunity for female entrepreneurs. According to a 2013 study by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), “In the U.S. and developed Europe women are 18 percent less likely to perceive they have the capability to start a business.” The reason behind the perception can be traced to the obstacles female business owners face. A 2017 study from The U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship found three roadblocks holding women back: 1) Lack of role models and mentors, 2) Gender pay gap, and 3) Unequal access to funding and venture capital.

Those factors are exactly what Weinstein wants to overcome with Pitch It!

“The mission of it is to be able to give these women who want to open a business the feedback they need to tailor it to the three things you mentioned,” says Weinstein. “Women struggle more because there are fewer women in a position of ownership than men, fewer in the kitchen to be able to have those conversations with.” Weinstein admits she may have been channelling her mother’s love of Shark Tank when she developed the Pitch It! program. But unlike the TV series, at FAB the Pitch It! applicants will work with Foodmaker Media co-founder Patricia Duffy.

Duffy, a Harvard Business School M.B.A. and Curator of Foodmaker Campaigns for Women You Should Fund, is an expert in start-ups following her work as Managing Director with Golden Seeds, an angel investment group.

“I see my role as someone who is trying to help organize the passion, if you will,” says Duffy. “I want to support these entreprenuers and take their ideas and mold them into something to help them easily and clearly communicate their plan. Essentially I’m working with entreprenuers on pitching to investors or employees or friends and family for a crowdfunding campaign.”

That expertise is what Shapiro and Lewis want to tap into.

“I hope she provides some sort of strategic direction for the next steps of the business plan outside of FAB,” says Lewis. “She’s worked so closely with investors, she can help us develop our message and hone in on what we need to build out, like our revenue model.”

For others, like local Pitch It! applicant Becky Burke, the goal is to have Duffy guide Burke on how to launch her nonprofit that at once teaches low income Charleston teens back of house culinary skills and combats the staffing shortage by placing them in local restaurants. Burke, along with her nonprofit partner and Park Cafe operating partner Xan McLaughlin, has already been testing the model at Burke High School where every Tuesday they bring in a different volunteer chef to teach and train students in the program.

“Chefs get to meet with the students and some get recruited on the spot,” says Burke. So far four students have been hired by local restaurants.

The goal is to eventually grow the idea into a full service hospitality staffing industry with their own certification programs. “That way a student can apply for a job and show that they’re a legit employee, with ServSafe, culinary skills,” says Burke.

With the beginnings of her nonprofit already working, now Burke wants to call on Duffy for fine tuning. “I just think she has an amazing business line. All these details about what should be in the Powerpoint and the business plan, I just want to draw upon that and fine tune the details and market. Since we’re a donor base as a nonprofit, marketing is almost more important and we need to fine tune what stats we need.”

“My hope and goal in working with each of the pitching companies is that we’re able to present an overview of their business idea and their roll out plan as clear as possible so they can garner the most in-depth observations and input from the panel members,” says Duffy. “If each person who is pitching comes away with actionable ideas as to how they can better what they’re doing, it will be incredibly valuable to them.”

With any luck, Duffy and the panel of experts, including Carolyn Richmon, Nancy Cushman, Sarah Robbins, Jen Pelka, Molly Cherry, Anna Castellani,Laura Wagstaff, Nicole Biscardi, and Camilla Marcus, will provide feedback to bring the Pitch It! applicants plans to life. But Weinstein cautions this isn’t merely a business boost of confidence.

“I want them to be educated so they can make the right decision and go into it with their eyes fully open. Each of the 10 women on these panels — they’re not gonna hold back. They’re not going to be like ‘Oh they’re trying to put everything into this.’ They’re going to give them the feedback that might not be what they want to hear, but they have to hear it — blatant honesty.”

The kind of honesty and opportunity every entreprenuer, regardless of gender, deserves.

FAB Conference is June 10-12. For more information, visit thisisfab.com.

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