BRATTLEBORO—At first glance, it looks like the love child of an exercise ball and an office chair.
And then you sit on it, and your back and hips and buttocks tell you not to be so dismissive of this seemingly unorthodox piece of furniture.
It’s called the Språng Chair, and the funding pitch given by its inventor, Darren Mark, came away the winner at the fifth annual FreshTracks Road Pitch at the River Garden on Aug. 1.
Mark came away with $500 Riders’ Choice Prize plus a Vermont Teddy Bear “biker bear,” given to the top pitcher in each of the eight communities where the motorcycle-riding investors stage their event. The eight local winners now advance to a statewide final event in October to compete for more than $4,000 in cash prizes.
Road Pitch is an annual business-plan competition started by Cairn Cross, co-founder and managing director of FreshTracks Capital, Vermont’s leading venture capital firm.
Hosted locally by Strolling of the Heifers and Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, the contest is a chance for local entrepreneurs to get coaching and practice in how to make a tight and coherent pitch to investors.
In addition to Mark, four other entrepreneurs made their pitches to Cross’ group of roughly 50 sodden motorcyclists who rode through a couple of downpours to get to the River Garden:
• Dede Cummings, Green Writers Press, an independent, environmentally conscious book publisher based in Brattleboro.
• Kevin Parada, Venutopia, a Vernon-based digital platform for finding unique wedding venues.
• Hilary Famolare, Border Town Farm, a Brattleboro hemp farm focusing on cannabidiol or CBD products.
• Ridge Shinn, Big Picture Beef, a Hardwick, Mass., producer of 100 percent grass-fed beef pastured in the Northeast.
Each pitch was limited to seven minutes, followed by an eight-minute question-and-answer period. The bikers took notes and filled out scorecards at the end of each pitch.
Mark was the last of the five to make a presentation. He said he invented the chair about three years ago when he was looking for a chair that could deliver the benefits of “active sitting,” such as improved blood circulation, better posture, and strengthened back and core muscles — and still look more like a standard office chair.
After being successfully funded on Kickstarter two years ago, and selling 150 prototype chairs in the process, Mark said he has sold an additional 150 Språng Chairs. All this was done online, with Facebook as the main medium for advertising the chair, and selling the chairs through his website, sprangchair.com.
He is currently field testing what he calls Språng 2.0 — which integrates the Språng’s bungee and ball into a more mainstream-looking chair with a gas lift and five-wheeled metal base. It is slated to go on sale this fall for an initial cost of about $400.
Mark said he was looking for about $150,000 in seed money to ramp up production of the chair and to bring down its production cost so the chair can sell for about $199.