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And in the end, Chris Culp, a self-styled handyman and inventor from Cedar City whose Dump-A-Matic system turns a pickup into a dump truck in seconds, won the financial backing of 10 angel investors Thursday.
"I feel the American Dream slamming me in the forehead. It's just overwhelming," Culp said after hearing he won. "I'm going to build a company called D.A.M. Truck Tools and change the way people unload their pickup trucks all over the world."
Culp's folksy approach and simple product outdid presentations mounted by the other contenders - senior executives at high-tech companies. Even Ron White, an Olympus Angels investor who was chairman of the panel, seemed surprised.
"Chris is a true walk-on. In a month of March Madness, here is a guy who came from 65th seed and won."
Culp's road to victory began Feb. 8, when executives from Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s administration and the private sector announced that a funding competition for entrepreneurs would be part of the summit.
Applications were received from 110 people who sent business plans to FundingUniverse, an Orem company that connects entrepreneurs with angel investors - wealthy people willing to invest in early-stage businesses in return for a share of the company.
The field was narrowed to five candidates - D.A.M. Truck Tools; Caveon, which sifts test answers to ferret out cheaters; Rahster.com, a fledgling online community of sports lovers; S2, whose software produces three-dimensional images of retail products for online catalogs; and Xapio, which is developing a server filter that improves the security of e-mail messages.
Yet when cowboy-booted Culp mounted the stage in the ornate Grand Salon of The Grand America Hotel to make a six-minute speech with the first microphone he had ever held, he was certain he would prevail.
"I was impressed by the gentlemen" who were his competitors, he said. "They put a lot of thought into it. They are all college-educated people. But I knew I had won because I was different.
"They were all computer companies, and my deal is something you can put your hands on. It's a tool that anybody can use who has a pickup."
The judges were impressed. Remarks such as "I'm not sure he's an entrepreneur, but he's got a tiger by the tail," "There's a great opportunity, but it needs some testing," and "I like his self-deprecating style. If he had a strong chief operating officer, he would be a strong front for the company" sailed back and forth when investors reviewed Culp's presentation.
The audience liked Culp, too. After the presentations, dozens of people shook his hand, gave him their business cards, and asked if they, too, could invest in his company.
"I got 50 people who have approached me in the last couple of hours. I had several people come up, banks come up, investors come up. We had a lot of people who said they will call or e-mail. I told them I needed to go home and relax and actually absorb what is happening to me," Culp said.
"Quite frankly, we're going to see what people offer. In all honesty, I want the right money. I don't want the first money. I want the investor who is right for me."
How does Dump-A-Matic work? A box-like device called a dump sits in the bed of a pickup. To unload something, the driver backs up and stops. The dump, which is on wheels, slides out until it reaches a fulcrum point and tips down. The contents of the dump are unloaded when the truck pulls forward. When the driver is finished, the dump is simply rolled back onto the truck.
Culp got the idea when running a tree service in Las Vegas about 15 years ago. One day, he noticed someone put a dolly into the back of a pickup. When the truck stopped, the dolly rolled to the rear. As the dolly rolled, it turned sideways and stopped, and the contents slid to the ground.
Culp began his company last year. He has sold 15 units at about $1,500 apiece. He says everywhere he goes, people want to see how it works.
"I don't mean to pat myself on the back, but I can't go anywhere without showing it off."