Madison entrepreneur’s travel company earns $10K on season premiere of ‘Project Pitch It’

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Three Wisconsin entrepreneurs presented the ideas behind their businesses to a group of five successful moguls during the season six premiere of Project Pitch It.

Otehlia Cassidy, founder of Madison-based travel company Otehlia Travels, took home the Project Pitch It $10,000 cash award. She founded the company after she realized most travel companies use generic itineraries rather than “real experiences that make a difference.”

When planning trips, Cassidy plans experiences through personal relationships she’s cultivated over the years during her own travels.

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“These experiences are fun, they’re unique and they’re based around food, because food is the heart and soul of a culture,” Cassidy said.

Her trips are geared toward small groups of no more than eight people and based in having experiences that allow visitors to truly get to know the places they’re visiting. She lost 80% of her revenue during the pandemic but was able to keep afloat thanks to her other business, Madison Eats Food Tours.

“It seems like this is a great time for this. Of course, we’ve had all these restrictions but the folks on the other side have been restricted as well and been more hungry to welcome visitors,” said mogul David Gruber.

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Mogul JoAnne Sabir questioned who the audience would be for such trips and thought that aspect should be more clear to possible customers.

“I think it prices a lot of folks out. However, if you’re clear on your market, there are folks ready to go. It just seems like she needs an insurgence of cash,” said Sabir.

Taking home the Jendusa/UWM Lubar Entrepreneurship Center $5,000 award was Gold Coast Candy.

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Appleton-based entrepreneur Yaw Asare is passionate about bringing a taste of Africa to North America. Gold Coast Candy offers customers a Ghana-style brittle, which was Asare’s favorite childhood snack. The idea behind Gold Coast Candy began after Asare was not able to find any of his favorite childhood snacks here in the U.S. His mother gave him a recipe book from 1978. He tried several of the recipes, which garnered positive feedback from friends and coworkers.

“If you take a look at the American foodscape, you’ll notice that it’s full of foods from immigrants from Europe, Asia, South and Central America. Guess what’s missing? Africa,” said Asare.

One of the key attributes of his brittle is that it does not stick to consumers’ teeth. In 2019, the company sold 300 bags of the brittle at two retail locations. Since then, they’ve expanded to having products at 25 locations and an online store. Asare has been bootstrapping the company.

“The product is really good, so that’s an amazing staring point,” said Sabir. “But they could use additional support in thinking through the process of inception to getting to market.”

The AmFam/We Energies $1,500 award went to Milwaukee-based Rapid Radicals.

Paige Peters is the founder and lead engineer behind the company. She helped develop a rapid, de-centralized wastewater treatment system that can treat water 16 times faster than conventional treatment. The system works in less than 30 minutes.

“Every year, our environmental and public health is threatened as 850 billion gallons of untreated sewage are discharged into lakes and rivers, including Lake Michigan, from overburden and aging sewer pipes during intense storms,” Peters said.

After the storms of 2010 in southeastern Wisconsin caused a basement backup in the home of her co-inventor, Dr. Dan Zitomer, he set out to find a solution to the problem.

Peters joined Marquette University in 2015 to start initial research and officially founded Rapid Radicals in 2016.

Since its inception, the company has received $1.4 million in non-dilutive grants. In 2019, the company started its first pilot, run out of a shipping container here in Milwaukee.

“For us, a lot of this is getting people to talk about infrastructure and understanding how we’re all impacted by these problems and we’re all also accountable to the solutions,” Peters said.

The show’s newest mogul, Gale Klappa, said he believed the technology behind Rapid Radicals could be a powerful tool.

“I think they have the technology. If that technology proves itself at scale, they’ve got something here that can make a real difference,” said Klappa.

Project Pitch It airs Saturdays at 10:35 p.m. and Sundays at 11:30 a.m. in Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin on WISN-TV Channel 12. BizTimes Milwaukee is a media partner for Project Pitch It.

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