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Chef Njathi Kabui stands on an empty stage at Tir Na Nog Irish Pub. The setting is a far cry from the catering kitchens and garden where he spends most of his time, and the stakes are high.
Kabui has just four minutes to sell a crowd on his business, Organics and Sounds. He’s got to convince them he’s not just a caterer – he’s a crusader for healthy eating, organic gardening and building community.
“Food should be consumed in its most pristine form; most of the food we eat is contaminated,” he said. “My business is just about building relationships.”
Want to go?
The next groundworkk microfunding dinner starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Mercury Studio, 407-A N. Mangum St., Durham. The series returns to Raleigh at 7 p.m. Feb. 12 at Visual Art Exchange, 309 W. Martin St.
Admission to each event is $5, which includes dinner. For more information,go to groundworkk.com.
Kabui won plenty of fans Tuesday night, beating out a three-dimensional printing business and a nonprofit for disadvantaged girls to win funding for his business.
Kabui was competing at a new series of monthly microfunding dinners called groundworkk, where $5 is all it costs to help pick the next big idea. Matt Konar started the events last fall, aiming to help designers and entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.
“There’s so much great stuff happening in Raleigh,” said Konar, an architect who’s plugged into the local design community. “I was wanting to do stuff to help, and I’m not this big venture capitalist.”
The groundworkk events give everyone a chance to be a venture capitalist – if only for an evening and a small pot of capital. At each dinner, several entrepreneurs make a brief pitch for their business idea, followed by eight minutes of questioning from the crowd.
After the pitches, everyone votes on the best idea, and the winner takes home the money collected at the door. An up-and-coming local chef provides the dinner.
The amount has ranged from $80 at the first dinner to $315 at the December event. Attendance has been growing steadily, but groundworkk likely won’t ever offer enough to pay rent or start manufacturing.
“I don’t think it’s just the money,” Konar said. “The more important thing is the support and the connections people are making. Money’s just one part of the much larger puzzle.”
Whitney Robinson was one of groundworkk’s first participants, pitching her line of leather handbags and jewelry called Freshly Given. “It was the first bit of funding I’ve ever received,” she said. “It was very surreal for me. After the pitch, I was able to stay in contact with the people that were there.
“It was like a real-life ‘Shark Tank’ but nicer.”
Several months after her groundworkk experience, Robinson is focusing on making products in a higher price range, and she’s selling through two shops, among them the Kindred Boutique in downtown Raleigh.
As groundworkk grows, the events switch locations monthly. Some of the past dinners have been at the Longview Center and Tir Na Nog Irish Pub. Konar has also added a series in Durham – he doesn’t want any individual dinner to get too big.
“The nature of the event is small and intimate,” he said. “I think there’s going to be more events.”