MasteryPrep, a firm that helps high schools prepare students for the rigors of the ACT test, won the BREW Pitch Night competition Wednesday in Baton Rouge.
That win carries the possibility of an investment in the company of as much as $1 million.
“We won the Pitch Night,” company founder Craig Gehring exclaimed outside the Manship Theatre at the Shaw Center for the Arts after the competition.
Gehring, who earned perfect scores on both the ACT and SAT college entrance exams at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, did not pursue a college degree. Instead, he built a business that helps others gain entrance to colleges and universities.
During Wednesday’s competition, Gehring, 28, told judges and an audience of more than 150 that sales of his college preparatory program totaled $350,000 last year. He said sales have grown to more than $3.5 million this year at more than 400 schools across several states.
MasteryPrep won $5,000 as the audience favorite at Pitch Night, part of Baton Rouge Entrepreneurship Week, or BREW. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber hosted the event.
That $5,000 prize was supplied by MESH Integrated Marketing and Advertising.
But much more money could be headed toward MasteryPrep.
Ryan “Jume” Jumonville, founder and board chairman of United Networks of America, and UNA CEO J. Brian Oliver announced earlier they could invest as much as $1 million in a Pitch Night company.
Gehring said Thursday morning that negotiations are underway but could last until the first quarter of next year.
“We’re very optimistic,” Gehring added. “We had some tremendous interest from the panelists, and they had some very valuable advice. It was great to be able to talk to them.”
The panel of judges included Oliver; Kendall Almerico, an attorney who is chief executive officer of FundHub.Biz and a crowdfunding columnist for both Entrepreneur.com and Crowdfund Insider; Michael Trafton, founder and chief executive officer of Fire Ant Software and founder of Blue Fish Development Group; David Hall, a director at Revolution Ventures; and Ken Jacob, president and chief executive officer at Cajun Industries.
“Our goal is to help the lives of 10 million students,” Gehring told the panel.
Gehring was asked by panelists whether his company will soon face declining sales, given that established competitors such as Kaplan and The Princeton Review are experiencing downturns.
Gehring said students who use his competitors’ study materials experience average score increases of 0.22 points toward the ACT’s perfect score of 36.
Students who train with MasteryPrep materials average an increase of three points, Gehring said.
In an interview in October, Gehring explained a three-point increase in a Louisiana student’s score can become a life-changing event. That’s because a Louisiana student needs a score of 20 on the ACT to qualify for a state TOPS college scholarship.
Gehring told panelists Wednesday his competitors focus on improving ACT scores for the 25 percent of high school students who already are prepared for college. MasteryPrep, he said, focuses on the 75 percent of students who are not yet prepared for college.
School district superintendents and high school principals face increasing demands for improved student performance, Gehring noted. That means MasteryPrep’s average three-point gain is eye-catching.
All of the panelists except Trafton cast their votes in favor of an investment in MasteryPrep.
Trafton favored Commit Change, a company that has developed software that improves the efficiency of nonprofit organizations’ fundraising efforts while taking no percentage of those donations. Dallas billionaire Mark Cuban is one of the investors in Commit Change.
The reaction of the audience and panel of judges to MasteryPrep’s presentation was overwhelming, Gehring conceded afterward. But that stunning moment was soon followed by elation.
“I was ecstatic about how it went last night,” Gehring said Thursday. “I was excited for our team.”
Gehring developed MasteryPrep’s study program, ACT Mastery.
But he said team members he brought in last year were instrumental in growing sales by 1,000 percent this year.
Those people include skilled startup veteran Charlie Davis, Chief Executive Officer Dale Petty, Chief Operations Officer Jared Loftus and Missy Crews, director of state programs.
“The difference is this team we’ve put together in Baton Rouge,” Gehring said.
MasteryPrep has been based at Louisiana Technology Park, 7117 Florida Blvd., for nearly two years.