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Nov 29, 2017 10:24 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Winners Selected In 'Shark Tank'-Like Event Held At Southampton Arts Center

Ben Conard, the founder of Five North Chocolate, scored $5,000 for his business idea at the first i-hamptons Rip Tide: Sink or Swim event at the Southampton Arts Center in Southampton Village on Saturday. COURTESY OF ASHLEY HEATHER
Nov 29, 2017 11:14 AM

Two entrepreneurs in their 20s won a total of $25,000 on Saturday after presenting business ideas to a “Shark Tank”-like panel in what was called “Rip Tide: Sink or Swim” in Southampton Village.

The competition was hosted by i-Hamptons, a community organization that provides resources and support to local innovators and entrepreneurs. It brought in 20 local entrepreneurs who each pitched ideas for new businesses with a two-minute video and a paragraph about their startups.

Those submissions were posted on the i-Hamptons website for two weeks to allow viewers to vote for their favorite ideas. Collectively, the posts generated more than 3,000 votes, and the top five entrepreneurs were invited to present their ideas to a panel of judges on Saturday at the Southampton Arts Center on Jobs Lane.

“It was similar to the TV show,” said Danielle Candela, founder of Tote Taxi and top winner of the competition.

On the “Shark Tank” television show, entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of successful business owners, who then proceed to make offers to help them succeed. The catch: The newbies usually have to give up a good chunk of their business to the sharks.

“These judges were not as brutal as those judges,” Ms. Candela, 28, of Manhattan said of the panel. “I didn’t have to give them a percentage of my business. It was just them deciding who they thought had the best idea.”

Ms. Candela, who grew up in East Quogue, designed a courier service, called Tote Taxi, that transports luggage from Manhattan to Montauk. The business will go live in the spring. Ms. Candela explained that Montauk visitors next summer will be able to use the phone app or her website next summer to schedule delivery of their bags.

The idea and the app netted Ms. Candela $15,000 for winning first place in the competition. She said she plans to use the money to help cover the costs of developing the application and to add more features.

It’s taken her a year and a half to get to this point in developing the business, she said, and she wants to start out small by focusing on Montauk alone. Eventually, she said, she wants to be able to offer the service in other parts of the Hamptons.

“I’m targeting people going to Montauk for long weekends,” Ms. Candela said. “Montauk has really, over the past five years, become the spot that everyone in the city goes out to.”

Coming in second place and winning $10,000 was Ben Conard, the founder of Five North Chocolate. At 23, Mr. Conard, who lives in Setauket, has created a vegan chocolate company that combines dark chocolate with “superfoods.” So far, he has developed five different flavors, including coconut, cinnamon almond, coffee, goji berry and pistachio sea salt.

Mr. Conard started the business when he was a student at SUNY Geneseo. He said he was enrolled in an entrepreneurial training course, working with a team of four other students, when they decided to start a healthy snack company. Since then, he decided to take on the business himself, launching it in spring 2016 and spending two months doing a pilot run out of a commercial kitchen. Mr. Conard sold 1,000 bags of chocolate during the pilot run, he said.

He then spent a year in Germany, where he studied entrepreneurship further, met with officials at German chocolate companies, and was named German National Champion at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. In July he moved back to Long Island to begin the business in earnest.

Mr. Conard said he entered the “Sink or Swim” competition because it would be a good platform to share his idea. “If you win money in the process, that’s just icing on the cake,” he added.

He has been in contests where the judges act more like friends, but he said it can be more helpful to get critical feedback. According to Mr. Conard, the judges in Southampton were harsh, in particular Kathleen King, the founder of Tate’s Bake Shop. “I would say she was the harshest—but that’s a positive thing,” he said.

Mr. Conard said he plans to use the $10,000 to redesign the packaging of his product, which is carried in about 13 stores across the country, including in New York, Alabama and Kentucky.

Ashley Heather, the MC of the event and the founder of i-Hamptons, said he asked attendees at a networking event earlier this year if they would like to see a “Shark Tank”-type of event and got an overwhelmingly positive response. He added that he was able to organize the event between September and this past Saturday.

The event drew sponsors including the Southampton Social Club, Montauk Brewing, 91 East, Workhouse, Shepherd Consulting Group, Cove Capital, and Silicon Valley Bank. Along with a few donors, the sponsors provided the $25,000 for the event.

“i-Hamptons is just getting started on its mission to connect all the local innovators and startups, providing a platform of services to help accelerate their growth,” Mr. Heather said. “Saturday’s Riptide event demonstrated that the East End is alive with entrepreneurial spirit, and we look forward to seeing the community grow in the coming years.”

Though a date has not been set for next year’s event, Mr. Heather said those who are interested in competing in 2018 can go to www.i-hamptons.com/riptide2018submission.

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