Disabled Diving NZ's Hielke Oppers inspired the 100 plus crowd and the judges to win both Best Social Enterprise Pitch and the People's Choice Award at Rotorua X's Start-up Pitch night.
Julia Charity's Look After Me won Best Commercial Pitch at the event, held this week. Both took a share of the $8000 prize pool of business support services, mentoring and training.
Mr Oppers' impressive pitch tugged at the heart strings of the audience with a mission to empower people with disabilities through scuba diving and with a vision to have Disabled Diving NZ instructors in every diving centre in New Zealand by 2020.
His passionate pitch centred on the importance of helping both mentally and physically disabled people focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities. He took the audience through the benefits and his five-year plan to achieve his vision.
This was the second Start-up Pitch night, with the inaugural Pitch night in 2014 won by Paul Charteris's NZ Trail Runs, owner of the highly successful Tarawera Ultramarathon.
The Pitch Night was developed to provide an opportunity for local commercial and not-for-profit organisations to practice their pitch and receive constructive feedback.
Mr Oppers took part in the event as he thought it would gain exposure for Disabled Diving NZ and also to gauge what the public's response would be to the organisation's purpose and goals. He also saw it as an opportunity to receive feedback from established business leaders and learn where he can improve.
"It was encouraging to see people's positive response from Pitch Night. This makes me even more determined to grow Disabled Diving NZ into a successful nationwide programme," he said.
"Having an opportunity to listen to the other participants' pitches and share what we do is great. It helps people to be innovative, take a risk and receive feedback from the judges and audience. Walking away with the awards, obviously was the cherry on the cake."
Ms Charity was the judges' Commercial Pitch winner. Driving her decision to pitch was the launch of a new tourism product and seeking $100,000 investment funds to leverage off the Tourism Growth Partnership programme.
"I was stunned and humbled to win. It has re-energised me to keep striving to deliver value to New Zealand.
"The prize package is considerable and the mentoring will really push new boundaries for my business. I also came away with the names of some enthusiastic new investors, so it was worth entering, just for that," she said.
The judges included Soda Inc chief executive Dr Claire McGowan, beany.biz chief executive Sue de Bievre, Snowball Effect head of company Pipeline Shaun Edlin, Enterprise Angel executive director Bill Murphy and head judge Mayor Steve Chadwick.
?Seven organisations pitched on the night: Holly Gray Flight Centre Travel Broker - Holly Gray, Look After Me - Julia Charity, Ihu Kohatu Dreams Team - Victoria Wikitoria Hunter, Virtual Retirement Village - Vijo Madappilly Jose, Disabled Diving NZ - Heilke Oppers, The Rogue Stage - Karin Vincent and Colleen Mullin - Counselling.