Dead Bird Brewing takes $10,000 prize on ‘Project Pitch It’

Funky Fresh Spring Rolls and LiteZilla earn connections, mentorship

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Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:04 pm

Three more Wisconsin entrepreneurs made their pitches Saturday on the second episode of “Project Pitch It” season 2.

Nick Kocis and Jeremy Hach of Dead Bird Brewing Co., which is based in Madison and Milwaukee, was awarded the $10,000 cash prize.

Dead Bird is a contract brewer, so it doesn’t have a permanent location yet. The pair sought the cash prize to establish a headquarters, taproom and distribution facility in Milwaukee.

“Primarily what we’re looking for is a space for storage, further specialization of our product and direct consumer sales, which have a higher profit margin,” Kocis said.

Dead Bird, established in 2016, makes imperial strength beers of greater than 8 percent alcohol by volume, which they said is a unique niche. The company had done more than $100,000 in sales as of fall 2017. It brewed 100 barrels its first year, and 200 barrels last year.

The brewers provided the business “mogul” judges on Project Pitch it with a taste of its Strumpet imperial cherry stout.

“We use it kind of as a crossover beer for wine drinkers to come into beer without leaving their comfort zone entirely, and then craft beer drinkers are always looking for the next, newest, hippest kind of thing,” Kocis said.

“That idea is great. There’s a lot of people that just want to drink wine,” said Jim Lindenberg, owner of Lindy Enterprises and one of the moguls.

“They’ve thought about this, right,” said Nancy Hernandez, president and founder of ABRAZO Marketing and a mogul. “They’re not just in that over 8 percent alcohol area and concentrated there, but they’re really putting some unique flavors together. And let’s face it: Food and wine and drink is hot. So these guys are hoping to ride the wave.”

TrueMan McGee, founder of Milwaukee-based Funky Fresh Spring Rolls LLC, was awarded a business dinner with potential advisors and investors from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Lubar Entrepreneurship Center.

Funky Fresh Spring Rolls are grilled spring rolls with healthy fillings McGee developed while he was running a personal training business.

“It was something I needed to get my clients to eat healthier,” he said. “People were contacting me more for the food than actually the fitness.”

The judges tried McGee’s sweet potato and black bean, buffalo chicken and kale, and chicken club spring rolls with fiesta ranch and greek yogurt dipping sauce.

Funky Fresh, founded in 2011, now has five employees and has sold 50,000 spring rolls. They’re sold at farmer’s markets, festivals and frozen online. Its 2017 revenue was $150,000.

“Having the product on the grocery store shelves would be great because there’s nothing like it,” McGee said. “Every mogul here brings some expertise that could help but ultimately, we need the funding now to get the equipment for a commercial kitchen.”

“I think the food is delicious,” said attorney David Gruber, one of the moguls. “Never fried, I think it stands out today.”

A third entrepreneur, Adam Butlein, received free tuition, mentoring and office space at Cardinal Stritch University.

Butlein is the founder, inventor and chief illumination officer at Cedarburg-based LiteZilla LLC. The company, founded in 2013, makes giant interactive light boards.

The electronic boards have slots for colored LED lights that can be turned into messages and images. They come in mobile, wall-mounted, tabletop and all-weather versions, and pricing begins at $6,000.

“LiteZilla is in the experience business. We create meaningful experiences and lasting emotional memories,” Butlein said.

He is marketing the product to doctors’ offices, children’s museums and corporations, and has gained early traction with Zappos.com and Betty Brinn Children’s Museum.

“Every piece of the LiteZilla is manufactured in Wisconsin,” he said. “As much of the products as possible are sourced locally.”

“There’s nothing you can do to mess this thing up,” Butlein said. “They’re all redundant LEDs so if one fails, you won’t notice.”

Jerry Jendusa, David Gruber, Deborah Allen, Peter Feigin and Jim Lindenberg are featured as panelists in the second season of “Project Pitch It.” Other panelists include Tina Chang and Nancy Hernandez.

The moguls agreed Butlein needs guidance on prioritizing which verticals to go after.

“I often would chase shiny objects and I think sometimes when you have customers that are pulling you in different directions and you want to please everyone, you try to and you end up pleasing no one,” said mogul Jerry Jendusa, co-founder of EMTEQ and Stuck Coaching.

“Project Pitch It” airs on Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. on WISN 12. View the full list of judges and entrepreneurs for season 2 here.

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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