“You Can’t Fake Passion” 1-on-1 with EastEnd Vegan founder, Melissa James

Melissa James (L) accepts a cheque for winning the Afro Chic Pitch


Crafting the perfect pitch is crucial to secure funding for your business. Making the right pitch can make all the difference when attracting investors, and it takes practice. Just ask ACCEL entrepreneur Melissa James. James is the owner of EastEnd Vegan, a company specializing in dairy-free, spreadable almond cheese that delivers products free of preservatives and soy. Experiencing some success early on in her company’s life, James is looking to expand her company and make it grow beyond its East Toronto roots. In order to achieve her goals, James knows she has to craft a stellar pitch to sell her great product. James has been practicing diligently in pitching her company and this practice paid off in winning first place and $5000 at the Afro Chic Start-Up Pitch in Toronto. James took some time to talk to us about her experience in making a pitch and what she did to win the competition.


Congratulations on winning the pitch competition, could you talk a little about the event?

James: It was at Queen’s Quay, by Artscape Daniel’s Launchpad on August 10, we went to Afro Chic a showcase of fashion in the black community and the black diaspora and they also had a pitch competition sponsored by BMO. They invited 20 businesses to make a pitch, we applied through Instagram and were selected.

We had markets scheduled that day and we went to the pitch competition right after. There was a panelist of three people where we were asked to make a pitch deck and were asked questions about our business. Afterwards we were asked how we would improve our business.


What was the experience like?

James: This was my second pitch and you don’t know what you’re getting into the first time. We discovered we were part of the final five finalists. 45 mins before the final pitch we were told to skim it down to 30 seconds. I’ve spoken to groups of about 40-50 people and now you’re speaking to 400-500 people. So it was a little nerve-wracking.

I would say it was eye opening in the sense that you go into these things not knowing what the outcome will be. It was amazing seeing some of the businesses out there and you’re blown away by the young entrepreneurs especially those in the black community and building amazing businesses. Also for myself it’s great to get support and encouragement from the crowd and people that I don’t know. Great to get good feedback. It reaffirmed my belief in my ability to speak to a large assembly of people. I believe you can’t fake passion and that really came across in my pitch.


What was your process going into the competition?

James: Coming off the first pitch I researched on what I should add. I found a good website on what to say on important parts of your pitch. Always show your product. Talk about the problem, we talked about lactose intolerant people and the recent increase in veganism. Talk about your story and why it’s important. I started writing why it’s important and the traction we’ve gained at farmers markets and what makes our product special. We also talked about what’s next for our business. I watched the show, Shark Tank, I practiced my pitch to a lot of different people, and I had to rehearse and tried to do my pitch without a script. The funny thing when you rehearse you might say it in the wrong order so we were practicing in front of a mirror. The other thing is when the panelists ask questions, you just say exactly what you would say to market. Even though you can practice and prepare, this is your business and you talk about it all the time when you talk to your customers.


How will winning the pitch competition and prize money benefit your business?

James: It’s actually a huge thing for us now we can invest in food scientists to extend the shelf life of our product, we can ship it further and with confidence. Right now our shelf life is 2 weeks. There’s also equipment we really need like a sanitizer, filler machine (fills the jars) a couple of the processes we do now by hand, it would be faster if we had a filler machine and fill the correct amount in each jar.


What is next for East End Vegan?

James: We’ll continue doing markets, we don’t underestimate the importance of meeting our customers, and continuing to let people try the cheeses. With that research we’re going to work on our website. Penguin Pickup is a company that has different locations throughout the city and we’re going to partner with them in getting our product around Ontario. As well as making excellent cheeses the whole time.


Did Accel help in any way with developing your pitch skills?

Absolutely, I met with David, one of the ACCEL coaches to prep for my pitch, and what I could work on. I kept going back to my notes from my first pitch competition on little pointers on things to say with this pitch going forward. I was using all my notes from when I worked with David. Just with our one on one meetings I was able to focus my pitch so much and it really showed during the competition.


If you are interested in working on your own pitch skills send a pitch video to Accel where you may be selected to participate in our live pitch competition on November 21, 2019 at Centennial College – Progress Campus. For more information visit: https://accel.centennialcollege.ca/blog/pitch-competition-2019/



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