Brandon and Felicia Smith say their business idea began with their 5-year-old son's request.
"He started begging for a lizard. She went to get a snake," said Brandon. "But I said no snakes, so we got a lizard."
The couple, from Dalton, got a lizard and found that lizards eat crickets and other bugs. Live crickets. And lots of them.
They also found that it can be difficult to find people to feed live crickets to your lizard when you are on vacation. That was the impetus for them developing the idea for Critterbox, which created an IoT (internet of things) device to enable automated live bait feeding marketed toward reptile owners that comes with a mobile app allowing owners to feed their pets from anywhere.
The product won the second annual PitchDIA (Dalton Innovation Accelerator) contest Tuesday night at Stage 123 on West Gordon Street in downtown Dalton.
"I was shocked when they called out our name," said Brandon Smith.
"We are very excited and grateful," said Felicia Smith.
PitchDIA is modeled on the TV show "Shark Tank" in which entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to potential investors. The PitchDIA winner as selected by a panel of judges receives $5,000 and free office space for six months in the Dalton Innovation Accelerator in the Landmark Building in downtown Dalton.
Last year's winner, Dalton Middle School student Tripp Phillips, went on to appear on "Shark Tank," where he reached a deal with investor Kevin O'Leary to buy into his company Le-Glue, which makes a non-permanent glue that holds Legos and other building blocks together without damaging them.
Marilyn Helms, dean of Dalton State College's Wright School of Business, was one of the judges for Tuesday's contest.
"We thought that this was a business that could scale (up)," she said. "They already have a product. They had good data on the market, how many people have a pet lizard. We saw a lot of potential. But it was a hard decision, harder than last year."
The first prize in Tuesday's contest also brings with it various professional services, such as information technology and legal help.
"This will help us with our next steps," said Brandon Smith. "We are looking to do some more market research."
Elite Lineman Training of Tunnel Hill, which trains people for entry-level line work positions in the electrical lineman industry, took second place in the contest.
Musicbük, a hyper-local mobile app that uses artificial intelligence to connect qualified music instructors and prospective students, took third place. The company is based out of Atlanta.
Both the second and third place winners received $500 as well as various professional services.
The audience judged the winner from the top five finishers in Dalton Public Schools' recent student innovation contest.
Fifth-graders Isabella Flores, Andrea Hernandez and Isabel Perez, and fourth-graders Brianna Nolasco, Mireya Ruiz and Allie Walker, of City Park School, took first place, and won $1,000, for their Boom Balm flu-fighting lip balm.
"We were really excited," said Flores.
The audience also chose the LIFE (Life In a Floating Environment) team for the best booth at the street party that took place before the contest. The team is comprised of Brookwood School students Natalia Prieto, Georgia Claire Sanders and Liam Smitherman who developed a device to allow wheelchair-users to enjoy swimming pools.