Celebrating Kentucky Growth and Shaping Our Future: Ashland Plays Host to the SOAR Regional Business Pitch Competition

Celebrating Kentucky Growth and Shaping Our Future

Ashland Plays Host to the SOAR Regional Business Pitch Competition

By: Sasha Bush

The Ashland Beacon

1st Place

In the heart of Eastern Kentucky, amid the backdrop of economic challenges and job losses, a resilient spirit thrives. Despite the harsh blows dealt by shifting industries and fluctuating economies, the region is witnessing a remarkable resurgence, thanks in part to the steadfast efforts of a collective known as Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR). SOAR serves 54 Appalachian counties throughout Eastern Kentucky with its mission “to combat population loss in Eastern Kentucky by investing in existing communities and attracting new residents.” SOAR recently hosted a dynamic business pitch competition Thursday, April 11 at the Depot in Ashland where aspiring entrepreneurs gathered to showcase their groundbreaking ideas and vie for a chance to turn their dreams into reality.


Six groups of entrepreneurs from across the region stepped onto the stage to pitch their business concepts to a panel of esteemed judges and a captivated audience. From innovative tech startups to artisanal crafts ventures, the diversity of ideas presented reflected the boundless potential of the region's entrepreneurial ecosystem. As the pitches unfolded, each group of presenters demonstrated not only their passion for their respective ventures but also their deep connection to the Appalachian region. Whether it was a commitment to preserving local heritage or a vision for harnessing emerging technologies to drive economic growth, the entrepreneurs showcased their unwavering dedication to making a positive impact on their communities.

Thanks to Community Trust Bank, the six finalists were competing for a total of $20,000 in prize money that they would be able to take and use for the getting their business ideas off the ground. The six finalists were:

Sunhouse Craft is founded by Cynthia Main from Berea Kentucky. Sunhouse Craft is a sustainable artisan manufacturing business. Specializing in traditional craft techniques, Sunhouse Craft creates handmade brooms and wooden wares, sourcing materials locally to support regional farmers and promote a thriving, local economy.

Sylvatica Forest Farm is founded by Joana Amorim and Michael Beck from Mount Vernon Kentucky. Armorim and Beck operate a 50-member Herbal CSA, a small-scale fruit/nut/native’s tree nursery, a mushroom farm and an apothecary. Their mission is to educate and inspire others about the importance of herbalism, land stewardship and conservation.

DAAD Distilling is founded by Aaron Floyd. Discover the unique blend of tradition and innovation with Aaron Floyd of DAAD Distilling Co. LLC in Lancaster. Aaron brings over a decade of experience to crafting premium bourbon with a mission to inspire and contribute to the community. What sets DAAD apart is not just their premium high-corn bourbon with its distinctive buttery taste and savory finish, but their commitment to creating an immersive visitor experience amid the scenic beauty of Eastern Kentucky, complete with a botanical garden, arboretum, and a dedication to community service and environmental conservation.

Complet3D is owned by Eric Sparks. As an additive manufacturing engineer and Manchester native, Sparks envisions Kentucky as an advanced manufacturing hub. Through Complet3D, he helps professionals succeed in the additive manufacturing world, providing strategic advice, selling 3D printers and maintaining the technology.

Hazard Coffee Company is founded by Stephen and Maggie Prosser. Hazard Coffee Company is a specialty coffee shop and roastery. Using a data-driven approach, they offer high-quality coffee while creating a welcoming space dedicated to community.

Insight Emergency Solutions is led by Corey Shepherd and West Carter High School students Abby Daniel, Claire Holbrook and Rylyn Rayburn. They are revolutionizing emergency response with their 3D virtual structural models. Their innovative program provides 3D virtual structural models to first responders, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency planning.

            After each of the finalist groups had finished making their presentations to the judges, it was time for the panel of judges to deliberate. The panel of judges included: Natalie Heighton, Commercial Loan Officer for Community Trust Bank INC., Kevin Halter, Chief Executive Office for the Bon Secours Kentucky Health System and Lisa Bajorinas, Executive Director for the Kentucky Innovation Hubs Kentucky Science & Technology Corp. Third place and $1500.00 went to Sunhouse Craft. Second place with a $3500.00 cash prize went to Insight Emergency Solutions. Complet3D took home the first-place award with a cash prize of $10,000. The audience also had their chance to vote for the “Crowd Favorite,” which came with a cash prize of $500.00. Insight Emergency was crowned the honor of being the “Crowd Favorite.”

As the Appalachian region continues to evolve and adapt to the challenges of the modern world, events like these remind us that the spirit of entrepreneurship and the drive for progress will always endure in the hills of Appalachia. Sabrina McWhorter, Director of Business and Innovation for SOAR, shared, “What an incredible night with incredible presentations. If there is one thing that I want, you to take away from this evening… it is that Kentucky is full of opportunities.”

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