Biz Pitch


On the ABC reality show “Shark Tank,” budding entrepreneurs present business ideas to titans of industry in an effort to convince them to invest in the proposals. Recently, Hilton Head Island was the setting for a similar competition called “Biz Pitch,” part of the Thrive Lowcountry Women’s Conference on Sept. 26. 

Ten women gave four-minute “elevator pitches” to a panel of seven judges — members of the local business community — and then answered follow-up questions. Winners Karen Balerna, Amy Shippy, Katherine Reeves and Jessica Lowther took home a combined $8,500 in cash and prizes to expand or start their businesses. 

This is the South, but that didn’t stop the gloves from coming off at Biz Pitch. 

“I’m very competitive. I like to win,” said Shippy, who told the judges that she wanted to expand Blue Poppy Designs, her kitchen towel and napkin business, to include online ordering. Currently, she only sells her original designs at area festivals. Shippy is also the owner of Marche de Macarons bakery in Savannah. 

The other winners convinced the judges that their business plans provide services needed in the Lowcountry. Balerna is a registered nurse, board-certified patient advocate and owner of Nurse Advocate Partners, which helps patients navigate the health care system. She founded her business in Massachusetts in 2013 and opened the Bluffton location in 2017, employing other registered nurses. 

“If a parent or other loved one needs help, but you can’t be there due to distance or time constraints, we accompany them to medical appointments and take notes,” she said. “Often we provide transportation, and we help patients understand recommendations they receive from their doctors, evaluate their options and make independent decisions.”



Balerna said she will use the prize money to increase local marketing efforts for her company.

The beauty industry also was well-represented at Biz Pitch. Reeves and Lowther plan to open The Refinery Nail Bar & Skin Studio in Bluffton. The women, who both live in Oldfield, worked together to convince the judges that Bluffton needs an upscale nail salon and beauty bar featuring dry pedicures, injectables and more. 

Lowther is a nurse practitioner with experience in dermatology, plastic surgery and aesthetic medicine, while Reeves and her husband co-own two construction industry businesses. They are talking with an investor for The Refinery and have scouted a location for their salon.

Finalists worked with business coaches to hone their presentations.

“It was like ‘Shark Tank,’ except everyone was very supportive,” Lowther said. “I was nervous until I got up there.”

BizPitch was sponsored by SunTrust Bank and hosted by SCORE Lowcountry, the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, and The Don Ryan Center for Innovation. The competition took place at the Marriott Hilton Head Resort & Spa. 

Image: Local entrepreneurs (from left) Amy Shippy, Karen Balerna, Katherine Reeves and Jessica Lowther impressed a panel of judges and took home $8,500 in cash and prizes.