Co-Founder and CEO Chase Bonhag, second from left, and the team at FirstIgnite took home the top prize at the monthly TCNewTech Pitch Night Oct. 5. Posing with the check are, from left, Matthew Loffredo, Chase Bonhag, Cody Pawlowski, Dr. Robert Bonhag and David Melie.

TRAVERSE CITY — FirstIgnite held off a challenge from a last-second entry to win TCNewTech’s monthly Pitch Night competition.

Traverse City-based FirstIgnite won the audience vote to capture the $500 top prize, sponsored by 4Front Credit Union.

Co-founder and CEO Chase Bonhag made the pitch for FirstIgnite, which was also on the City Opera House stage in the first quarter of 2019. FirstIgnite officially completed the Y Combinator startup accelerator in the summer of 2020 and recently raised a seed round from investors, according to TCNewTech Executive Director Jennifer Szunko.

“He pitched several years ago in the early stage of his business,” Szunko said. “He had made some progress and was further along.”

FirstIgnite “matches companies with university experts to solve their toughest scientific problems,” according to a release. Companies describe their problem and “are matched to university experts for paid consultations.”

FirstIgnite was able to edge out two other presenters at the event.

“It was a close race,” Szunko said. “All three pitches were real good.”

Finishing second was Gordon Briley of Briley Fitness. Briley was recruited on the afternoon of Oct. 2 after scheduled presenter Mahmoud “Moody” Mattan of BrandXR was forced to drop out late after a schedule conflict with an investor meeting.

Briley worked on his presentation over the weekend, consulted with TCNewTech board president Kelly Ignace and Szunko on Oct. 4 and nearly won the event on Oct. 5.

“We helped him craft his pitch and put his mind at ease because he was so nervous,” Szunko said of Briley. “He did a great job.”

Also based in Traverse City, Briley Fitness uses an “innovative multi-purpose semi-autonomous rover,” according to a release. Briley has one full and two provisional patents on fitness industry products, Szunko said.

The third presenter was VERN Health co-founder and CEO Craig Tucker. A recent participant in the XlerateHealth Demo Day in Flint, VERN s artificial intelligence that “reduces the time it takes to analyze emotions in communications” and uses the technology to improve “a computer’s understanding of human emotional communication,” according to the company website.

The Pitch Night began with a ‘Quick Tip’ presentation by Matt Bower of the Grand Rapids firm Varnum Attorneys At Law. Bower’s topic was “Using ‘Finders’ to Find Capital: Avoiding Problems for Your Company.”

Jay Meldrum also is scheduled to give a brief presentation on the establishment of the Michigan Technological University Traverse City workspace.

“We had a great audience turnout at the Opera House,” Szunko said. “There was great energy in the audience and from the presenters. The program flowed really quickly.”

The next TCNewTech Pitch Night is scheduled for Nov. 2.

For more information on the next event or to apply for future Pitch Nights, visit or email Szunko at

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