At the end of this month, Tallahassee will officially celebrate the winning of a national championship that isn’t connected with collegiate athletics. It’s the victory of the DOMI Station incubator team in a competition to use hi-tech methods to solve a pressing community problem.
DOMI Station Executive Director Antonio Montoya said the sponsors of the Pitch Distilled 2019 contest actually came to him.
“We were approached by WIRED Magazine and they told us they had this competition and we’d be competing against all these cities and we thought, ‘Wow! That’s a big challenge. Are we up to the challenge?’ And we decided to go for it.”
The Multi-City competition sponsored by WIRED Magazine and Gentleman Jack Whiskey required teamwork. The Tallahassee team was led by Brittany Gress.
“So I think my major role was making a plan and getting everyone on the same page about things and making the video happen.”
A video showing the team’s entry was the online pitch that would attract enough viewer votes to win. But there also had to be a winning concept. That deliberation ultimately resulted in the "Huckster's Mobile Market" idea. A persistent Tallahassee problem has been the food desert phenomenon in many of the city’s lower income, majority-minority neighborhoods, where the nearest fresh fruits and vegetables may be miles away. Team member Jesse Taylor envisioned a food truck, similar to the roving ice cream trucks of days gone by, that would bring fresh produce right into the heart of these neighborhoods.
“What that does is bring back the nostalgia for the ‘wise’ population and it can also get the kids excited when they see this fun truck with a song playing and that brings the whole generational thing together, so it really makes a connection to the community,” he remarked.
Yet despite the team’s expertise, energy and enthusiasm, Team Leader Gress said it soon became obvious this project would require lots of outside help.
“And I think it’s supported really well by this community,” she observed. “But I think the State of Florida really wanted to push us to get on the map to show the nation that really good ideas and community networking can come from this city.”
Team member Heather Kirwan had props for her colleague Tabitha Frazier who threw her organization’s support into the project, along with other participants.
“The Leon Fruit and Nut Exchange was a big supporter of this video,” she pointed out. “The Tallahassee Food Network was and will be huge in the development of this idea. They’re going to play a leading role in making this happen. FAMU Sustainability was a huge force for this.”
DOMI’s Antonio Montoya added there were a raft of other community supporters.
“Sustainable Tallahassee came in. We don’t know anything about sustainability, but they do and brought us that. Leon County stepped in with a bit of funding so we could get some things done like hiring workmen. OEV (Office of Economic Vitality) also provided some funding.”
Still, it all came down to what was essentially a “people’s choice” decision, made by the number of online votes each of the six entries received. The other five contenders were all based in much larger cities, including Denver, Detroit and Atlanta. Huckster Mobile Market team member Anshul Lakshman said that made Tallahassee’s victory even more astounding.
“I wasn’t able to believe it that we actually won,” he said. “When you just look at the size of Tallahassee, it’s nothing as compared to these big cities. But we have people that we know and we can get votes. I’ve got India behind me, so I’m good with that!”
Possible help from Lakshman’s homeland notwithstanding, the win is a very big deal for a town that’s been struggling to boost its image as an up-and-coming creative, hi-tech, entrepreneurial hot spot. But first, DOMI’s Montoya says the community at large will be invited a victory party.
“There will be a larger event at the end of the month,” he explained. “WIRED Magazine and Gentleman Jack will be coming and hopefully have something that will give us nationwide exposure, not only for the project, which I think deserves it, but also for the city as a place for innovation on social causes, which I think is pretty cool!”
More on that to come.