Every Wednesday morning, local entrepreneurs gather at the Mason Enterprise Center in downtown Leesburg to listen to and critique one another’s startup ideas.
Today was no different, except that the entrepreneur pitching his idea happened to stand less than 5 feet tall and be just two weeks shy of his 13th birthday.
Salar Riar, a student at Belmont Ridge Middle School, is on spring break this week. So why not take the morning to rub shoulders with some of Loudoun County’s most successful business owners?
He was invited to give a five-minute presentation on his newly formed company, Pet Ping, at Mason Enterprise Center’s weekly 1 Million Cups meeting. 1 Million Cups is a national program that gives entrepreneurs an opportunity to pitch their company proposals to an audience of fellow business leaders, advisors and investors.
Salar’s idea, Pet Ping, will manufacture a small GPS device that snaps on to a pet’s collar. The device will allow pet owners to track their pets’ location via a smartphone app. The app will also alert the owner when the pet has roamed away from home. Salar is tweaking his product’s design to make it run on solar power, rather than batteries.
“And eventually, I want to design it so the collar can actually read the pet’s blood pressure and other vitals,” he said. “Sort of like a Fitbit for pets.”
Salar is one of 29 secondary school students enrolled in the Loudoun Chamber’s inaugural Young Entrepreneurs Academy! Over the past several months, the students have developed business ideas and, three weeks ago, they presented their plans to investors with the hopes of getting the seed money to launch their own legal, fully formed companies and nonprofit organizations.
Salar won the YEA!’s top prize, $1,500 to help launch Pet Ping. That honor also came with an invite to deliver his business pitch to a panel of judges at the national YEA! competition May 4 in Rochester, NY, where he’ll compete against other Saunders Scholar winners around the country.
He saw this morning’s 1 Million Cups meeting at the Mason Enterprise Center as a chance to brush up on his presentation skills and get feedback on his idea.
And the two dozen or so business leaders in the room did not hold back. They offered a few words of encouragement, but mostly they listed ways Salar could improve his product and the way he presents it.
Craig Rhinehart, an executive at IBM and the company’s entrepreneur-in-residence, suggested Salar do a bit more research on his competition so that when investors ask why his Pet Ping product is $150 cheaper, he has a good answer.
“You need to know the answer to why the competition is charging $250. And you need to know, if they drop their price to $100, what you’re going to do,” he said. “Investors want to know that you’ve thought through that.”
Others suggested offer more information about his marketing strategy and focus more on the numbers and projections side of the business, especially since he’s hoping to drum up interest from investors.
“You’ve really done a good job,” one man in the audience said to close out the Shark Tank-style event. “You’ll do great.”
Salar said he was taking mental notes and took each of their comments to heart. “Thank you for that. This is really helpful.”
Salar’s parents, Amjad and Farzaneh, said the Loudoun Chamber’s YEA! is grooming young people to think early on about business ideas and giving them the tools to bring them to fruition. “It’s one thing to think of a business idea but it’s another to actually get it up and running,” said Amjad Riar, who started his own business several years ago. “Seeing them give Salar all the pieces required to start a business is extremely exciting to see.”