Project Pitch It moguls stunned by startup’s poignant backstory

Project Pitch It 2020 moguls Jerry Jendusa, Dr. Debbie Allen, David Gruber and Peggy Ann.

Milwaukee-based Scratch Ice Cream took moguls by surprise on Saturday’s episode of “Project Pitch It” when the company founder shared how he and his business partner struggled with addiction before launching the business.

Scratch Ice Cream founder Ryan Povlick battled opiate addiction from ages 15 to 26. After gaining sobriety, Povlick began working with his aunt and uncle who own Yo Mama! Frozen Yogurt.

Povlick learned how to run a business through his experience at the frozen yogurt shop. His uncle later gave him the idea to start a business selling ice cream made from scratch, so Povlick began to research the market.

“I read books and I spent hours and months in the kitchen just working on recipes,” Povlick said. “When my aunt and uncle sampled what is now Scratch Ice Cream, they provided me with the capital to get started.”

Around the same time Povlick started Scratch Ice Cream, he opened his own sober-living home in Milwaukee, which is where he met his business partner Dustin Garley, who also struggled with opiate addiction.

“At our shops, we have a lot of guys who come straight from my sober living house to work,” Povlick. “They start learning how to show up and be productive and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Here’s a perfect example of when it works.”

Scratch Ice Cream can be found at Zocalo Food Truck Park and Crossroads Collective in Milwaukee. The company sells its products in a variety of grocery stores across the state as well as restaurants and other ice cream shops.

Project Pitch It moguls awarded Scratch Ice Cream with the Get Unstuck award, which includes $5,000 and one year of business coaching and strategy deployment.

“You have a very inspirational story,” said mogul Peggy Ann. “There are so many people that can benefit from both of your stories. That’s a really important part because you’re giving back to the community even by telling your story.”

The origin of Madison-based startup NovoMoto is just as moving. Founder Aaron Olson shared how the company was inspired by how his mother gave birth to him in sub Sarhan Africa in a room lit by a kerosene lamp.

Olson and his business partner Mehrdad Arjmand started the for-profit social enterprise, which provides clean electricity to off-grid communities in Africa. The company manufacturers solar power kits, which are systems that can provide lighting, phone charging and can even power a TV.

“Today, there are more than 120 million homes in Africa that do not have access to reliable electricity,” Mehrdad said.

NovoMoto offers a pay-as-you-go plan to customers, which costs $10 a month. After three years, the costumer owns the system, Olson added.

“To date, we’ve done over 300 installations and our goal is to do 1 million installations by the end of 2026,” Mehrdad said.

The company is raising $1.5 million in a seed round of funding. NovoMoto was awarded the $10,000 Project Pitch It award.

Also featured on the Project Pitch It episode was Milwaukee-based Xena Workwear Inc., a manufacturer of fashionable steel-toed work boots for women.

The startup designs work boots for women in STEM and in the trades. Co-founder and chief executive officer Anastasia Kraft developed her idea after working in the manufacturing industry as an engineer and project manager.

“While I loved my job, I absolutely hated my clunky safety boots that made it impossible to dress professionally,” Kraft said

The safety shoe industry today often applies the “shrink it and pink it” concept, which means creating a women’s product by making it smaller and adding pink, Kraft added.

“This is not what professional women want,” Kraft said. “What you wear has a major impact on your confidence and other job-related factors like performance and long-term career success.”

Peggy Ann, who also has a background in manufacturing, was already wearing Xena Workwear boots.

“I had to wear steel-toed ugly boots,” Peggy Ann said. “The boots were so ugly that it was like, okay, who cares about the ugly sweatshirt and hard hat.”

“That’s the problem,” Kraft said. “It’s already difficult to fit in the male-dominated work environment and if you don’t feel your best, that’s a problem and we want to fix it.”

Xena Workwear boots cost about $160 and are certified by the American Society for Materials and Testing. The company also released a model of boots that have a static dissipative certification, which means the boots have the ability to resist or stop the flow of electricity.

The company earned the Stritch Pitch award, which includes up to 3 courses at Cardinal Stritch University, access to innovation space and faculty and staff mentoring for one year.

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