Catapulting Business Owners With The Perfect Pitch

The pitch competition winners included a farmer, a diversity educator, and a healthcare professional

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: A farmer, a diversity educator, and a healthcare professional join a virtual classroom. For the next six months, they take part in an intensive educational journey to bridge the digital skills gap needed to become game changers in their industries and make their businesses more successful. At Capital One, this kind of scenario has played out annually since 2017 through the Supplier Diversity Team’s Catapult program, which matches advisors with diverse business owners eager to develop solutions for critical business challenges. 

As part of the program, ten business owners take collaborative thinking workshops, gain access to one-on-one meetings with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), and hold meetings with a dedicated Advisor. When they “graduate” from the program, participants present their learnings and proposed solutions to a panel of judges as part of the Catapult pitch competition. The winner then walks away with a cash grant to help grow their business. 

In 2022, Capital One announced three ranked winners for the pitch competition—including a farmer, a motivational speaker and a healthcare worker. We are proud to spotlight their businesses and help provide the tools, resources and counsel they need to succeed. Here are their stories:

Even the best farmers see the hardest struggles

As a fifth-generation farmer in Alabama, Christina Woerner McInnis was born knowing how soil chemistry can affect plant health. When soil is too alkaline or too acidic, it becomes difficult for plants to take in nutrients for example. As the founder of AgriTech Corp and creator of SoilKit®, McInnis’s goal is to collect soils and other data to help improve crop yields, reduce pollution, and increase carbon capture. Through the company’s lab-based, technology-driven testing, home garden owners and enthusiasts are able to understand the health and science behind their soil to grow healthier lawns, gardens and trees. 

When SoilKit® customers send in soil samples, McInnis’s company uses a variety of data points, such as type of crop, area size in square feet, scientific soil chemistry measurements, and other information to formulate fertilizer and nutrient remedy treatment products. Once the company processes the data, users are then able to know more about the soil such as nutrients, pH, and Soil Organic Matter, which shows how much carbon is in the soil. The information is then used to execute a customized shopping list of products to use to correct the soil’s nutrient deficiencies and this helps users know how to grow healthier plants, capture more carbon and prevent environmental pollution.

“Marrying the variety of talents that go into lawn care is something I’m passionate about,” said McInnis. “You have the farmer who grows the grass and the lab that processes the chemistry and all backed by decades of soil research from land grant universities and scientists. If you can help to discipline those factors, then you can jumpstart users and consumers on a path to success. This is not a one-size-fits-all approach since we take a prescriptive approach to the soil chemistry. It’s like you wouldn’t go to a doctor to give you a vitamin when you’re looking for a more diagnostic intake process.”

Through the Capital One Catapult program, McInnis came wanting to build out the carbon meter, but that all changed after a few classes and applied learning strategies.

“Catapult program advisors taught me to get diagnostic with my customers,” said McInnis. “We ran surveys and started to poll SoilKit® customers. We found that what affected customers in one part of the country may not affect customers in other parts of the country.” 

Alongside cohort members in different industries, McInnis learned a few pointers, including:

  • How to forge ahead in growing an uncharted market: “Creating a new market around a product that few people know they need to create better results in their lawn and garden, requires putting ourselves in the shoes of our audience to know why they can save money, time and headaches.”

  • How to pitch better: After all the courses and applied learning techniques, I learned to pivot the SoilKit® annual plan. Even up to the last week before pitch, I had various resources available to review the deck and refine the messaging. This journey helped me learn more about myself as a CEO, my audience and executing the messaging to the customer. As a Woerner family member, I came into Catapult thinking SoilKit® is an agriculture company. I came out understanding that we were a tech, marketing, data platform and science-backed company. We had so much in common with those from other industries who were facing similar transformations, even within traditional sectors.”

  • How to see over the hedge: “My time with Catapult, allowing me to see ‘over the hedge’ into the future plans of other similar- stage companies, inspired me to move toward a digital delivery mode at SoilKit®, which we put into development during my time with Catapult. Our new annual plan is a year-round digital platform for lawn and garden care that will launch in Fall 2022.”

“Catapult is not just a six-month program, this is a living mentorship partnership and their team is still actively involved with my questions and business,” said McInnis. 

With the pitch cash grant, McInnis hopes to develop a more sophisticated database that employs the user all year-round with actionable items and specific answers. She additionally hopes to continue to employ this data with artificial intelligence and machine learning as a way to help users better predict problem areas and create a more resilient ecosystem. 

“Even the best farmers see the hardest struggles,” said McInnis. “What we’re hoping to do is help people have the knowledge farmers do and help them grow healthier because that is good for the plant, the user, the community and our world. 

The Future of Healthcare

As an entrepreneur whose closest family members worked in public service, Deborah Ailiff made the career jump from licensed attorney to healthcare professional because she wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream to serve her community. 

In 2005 Ailiff founded Procare Integrated Health and Transport, a healthcare service that provides patients with safe, reliable, and on-time medical transportation while collaborating with clients to develop integrated healthcare programs to support positive patient outcomes and contribute to population health. An Emergency Medical Services (EMS) provider at its heart, Procare has evolved to help prevent or shorten longer hospital stays and provides complementary support to homecare providers. Procare offers Mobile Integrated Health (MIH) services for high-risk patients (e.g., those diagnosed with Asthma, COPD, CHF, Diabetes, Pneumonia, or COVID-19), by connecting patients and physicians via telemedicine and providing vital treatments at home. Procare is the only EMS service currently approved to provide MIH care in the home.

“We want to serve patients at home where it’s more comfortable for them,” said Ailiff.
“The COVID-19 pandemic changed people’s mindset about where they want to receive care and where they feel the safest. Most of all, many want to spend quality time with their family, not in the hospital. Our services make the ‘hospital at home’ concept possible.” 

To fully focus on patient and employee needs during the pandemic, Ailiff made the difficult decision to unenroll from the Catapult program the first time around. But during this second time, Ailiff dived headlong into learning how to develop an Enterprise App that would allow Procare to connect services with hospital administration clients and patients. The app would allow clients to order services without having to call or fax. One of the Catapult courses that left an imprint on Ailiff was Design Thinking, which taught her to be innovative and agile during a nationwide healthcare staffing shortage. She explained that one of the learnings she took away from the program was getting back to the roots of why she started Procare in the first place and ensuring that her team also got into the “mindset” of approaching emergency care with innovative problem-solving skills. 

One of the more unique app features could provide peace of mind for caretakers to see their family member’s care plan such as being able to see upcoming appointments, manage prescriptions and ask questions even from a long distance. 

“This app is going to enable people to be more participatory with their family member’s care,” said Ailiff.  “Caretakers can see everything in one place so that they won’t have to scramble between medical resources to figure out what’s going on. The app that we are developing thanks to the Catapult program will allow me to make this groundbreaking service accessible to more people.” 

Developing a pitch for people new to diversity and inclusion 

Work burnout drove Jess Pettitt to create Good Enough Now, a leadership development program that teaches people that “doing the best you can with what you have some of the time is better than nothing ever.” As a Diversity and Inclusion specialist at her previous job, Pettitt felt that her coworkers focused too much on “being perfect and nailing it rather than doing the best in a conversation that they might not win.” 

“Some conversations aren’t about winning, but about actual participation in humanity,” said Pettitt. “The thing about the diversity and inclusion space is that it’s labeled as a soft skill and not a business skill. Yet it is most certainly a critical business element.” 

Thinking back on her time in Catapult, Pettitt said that the diversity of participants across industries equally made her experience both difficult and wonderful. As a solopreneur, Pettitt doesn’t have a team of people to bounce ideas off of. 

“Coming together with a broad group of industry representatives may seem like an obstacle, but in fact it is where great ideas come from,” said Pettitt. “Working together and supporting each member of the cohort allowed everyone to shift how they listen and learn. We were such wildly different companies so developing a sense of community took a while. But I learned more about developing a diversity and inclusion app from a coffee maker and a soil chemist than I would have from my regular circle. To have immediate access to a cohort of people who are new to what I do was a helpful way for me to develop a pitch for people new to this space.” 

With the Catapult grant, Pettitt aims to create a global diversity and inclusion platform for participants to meet their individual learning needs while also providing access to effective assessment tools for teams, workplaces, and organizations. 

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Catapult Program Helping Diverse Business Owners

Catapult is an intensive, seven-month journey designed to help diverse business owners bridge the digital skills gap.

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