Barb Smith, majority owner of the Cincinnati steel fabrication company Journey Steel Inc., could have known things were going well Wednesday night after she pitched her business to a panel of judges in a “Shark Tank”-like competition.
When she concluded her two-minute pitch, the competition’s moderator, Mel Gravely, president and CEO of TriVersity Construction, exclaimed, “I want to buy some steel now.”
Smith won the competition for a $5,000 check that kicked off the South Central Ohio Healthcare Supplier Diversity Symposium at the Kingsgate Marriott Conference Center on the University of Cincinnati’s campus in Clifton.
But the judges were so impressed with another contestant, Kezia Fitzgerald, co-owner of CareAline, which makes sleeves and wraps that hold medical tubing in place, that they named her runner-up. Judge Troy Carter, a Los Angeles tech venture capitalist, said he would invest $2,500 in her business, and another judge, Kim Patton, chief operating officer for Cincinnati’s SFA Architects Inc., added $500.
The five contestants each made a two-minute pitch, and then fielded questions from the four judges for five minutes. All contestants represented women-owned or minority-owned businesses that wanted to break into the healthcare industry or do more in that industry, Gravely told the crowd of about 300.
The judges would choose a winner based on the quality of the product, its applicability to health care, the quality of the pitch and the responses to their questions, he said.
Smith's company makes structural and miscellaneous steel from beams and catwalks to ladders and railings. It has 10 office employees, but has access to an indefinite number of union members for field work.
The company normally likes to do jobs worth about $250,000, she said, but did a $1.4 million project at The River Downs Club in 2014. It’s been in business six years, earning $700,000 in revenue in 2013, $4.7 million in 2014 and $3.2 million in 2015, she said
“My hair is gray for a reason," Smith told the judges. "I’ve been in the construction business almost 30 years.” Her partner, Tom Garten, is also a construction veteran.
Asked what her company’s biggest challenge was, she replied, “cash flow,” because the company has no line of credit. Customers have to be creative about paying the company, she said.
The judges felt that Journey Steel had proven its viability as a business and was ready to scale up, Patton said. Smith’s energy and passion also impressed them, he said.
Fitzgerald told the judges she created the CareAline sleeve and CareAline wrap when her late daughter, Saorise, was undergoing chemotherapy for neuroblastoma. She was frustrated with the irritation caused by the tape holding the plastic tubing to her daughter’s skin, she said, and the possibility that her continual scratching of it would lead to infection.
The products helped her 11-month-old feel free to play and be a kid again, she said, and at least one woman in the audience sighed audibly.
Materials for the sleeves cost $3 and the wraps $5 to manufacture, she said, and they sell for $19.95 and $24.95, respectively. About 80 percent of sales is to hospitals, and the rest from the business website. In 2015, its third year, the company had $70,000 in sales and turned a small profit, she said.
Patton and his wife made their investment in CareAline because they feel it has the potential to help juvenile diabetes patients like their 3-year-old, he said, adding that it has the potential to majorly impact health care costs and quality.
The other contestants were:
- Global to Local Language Solutions LLC, a provider of language services with offices in Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Northern Kentucky. Those services include interpreting for medical and legal clients as well as translations for corporate clients.
- Brentwood, Tenn.-based Guy Brown, which offers business solutions including office products, re-engineered printer cartridges, managed print services, facility resources and others.
- And KORYAK, which offers KorAccess, software that manages the process of assigning and revoking all the resources for new hires, promotions and terminations, including access cards, procurement cards, business cards and others.