How the winners of this year’s Nantucket Pitch Contest bagged the victory.
In early October Sara Jemison and Hayden Arnot huddled with their fellow contestants backstage at the Dreamland theater waiting to hear the judges’ decision. One of four finalist companies in the second annual Nantucket Pitch Contest (inspired by NBC’s popular series Shark Tank), the young entrepreneurs and founders of the fledgling startup Nantucket Crisps had moments before told the three judges—Ring founder (and former Shark Tank contestant) Jamie Siminoff, novelist and Nantucket resident Elin Hilderbrand, and real estate developer and N Magazine publisher Bruce Percelay— why they should be the winners of a $10,000 first prize to help get their business off the ground.
Both natives of New York City and lifelong Nantucket summer residents, Jemison and Arnot grew up playing with and around each other on the same beaches before reconnecting as adults. “My mom jokes that we met and played together as kids,” said Arnot, “and it was just so funny that we reconnected in the city, working just feet from each other for more than a year and didn’t even realize it.”
Arnot, a budding entrepreneur who already had projects in the works in both the retail and music spaces, sees Nantucket Crisps as a means of bringing consciously and sustainably made chips to Nantucket with a hyperlocal approach. In the spirit of Cape Cod Potato Chips and the island’s own Nantucket Nectars before it, he said their hope for the business is that people will start to identify the brand as part of the Nantucket experience, just like a cold Nectar was for people back in the day.
“We talked about it and immediately got to work on our own test kitchen of sorts, but not having experience in the chip-making business, things didn’t go as planned,” Jemison said with a laugh. From there, the partners set out to find a commercial producer of the “crisps” that matched all the criteria they imagined for the brand. “We not only wanted them to be delicious, we needed them to be something people felt good about eating, and that meant they are vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO and completely free of any harmful ingredients,” added Arnot.
This past March, the pair decided on a producer based in New York state for the crisps since manufacturing on Nantucket on a large scale would simply not be possible due to a variety of reasons, including facilities, overhead costs and manpower. Arnot said the real tie to the island, however, comes through the brand’s various flavors that are inspired by the many tastes and smells of Nantucket, as well as their distinctly local packaging. Alliterative flavors like Cisco Beach BBQ, Madaket Sweet Onion and Sconset Sea Salt will launch the brand and are illustrated by sharp packaging designs depicting the distinct locales they are named for. “Each flavor was inspired by the different beaches on the island, and there’s no shortage of inspiration,” said Arnot.
Jemison and Arnot came prepared to the Dreamland that early fall evening. Even so, they waited in the wings unsure of how they’d fared before the judges. Then they heard the announcement, and they hesitated, almost as if they didn’t believe the words they were hearing from the stage. According to Percelay, whose career began in the advertising world, “As judges, we immediately saw the potential in this business and in the marketing power of the Nantucket name, but also cautioned that success in a crowded category will take a combination of a great product and good luck.”
They had won, and what had begun as a simple idea six months before suddenly had a very viable path forward. The $10,000 they were awarded will be spent in the ensuing months to get a website up and running, as well as production and inventory to begin the 2022 season. The initial plan is to sell with as many local island retailers as possible, before expanding out to the Cape and beyond in the months and years ahead. “Through this process and working with the Chamber’s Karen Macumber [founder and producer of the event] and our pitch coach Hugh Davis, we realized that this business could be bigger than we’d ever thought possible, and we’re excited by that. It’s pretty cool,” said Arnot.
Since they are starting from the ground up and with limited resources, Arnot said he and Jemison will be spending most of their year on-island as they prepare for the late-April launch. “Sara and I will be the ones delivering the boxes to our suppliers every day, and we are going to be here to build this special brand. We hope families make Nantucket Crisps a part of their experience on-island, just as they have other iconic brands in the past, and we aim to leave a good taste in people’s mouths.”
Jemison and Arnot plan to go live with their new website, nantucketcrisps.com, early in the new year.