By Michael Calhoun

SAN FRANCISCO, Ca. (KMOX) – Passengers on Southwest Airlines’ inaugural non-stop flight to San Francisco didn’t just hear how to fasten their seatbelt and what to do in the event of a water landing.

They also heard passionate pitches from five of St. Louis’ most promising technology start-ups.

The ‘plane pitches’ were part of an Accelerate St. Louis celebration of the flight addition. The new route is also being used as an excuse for the start-ups to stay in Silicon Valley for several days to make real pitches.

Before take-off from Lambert Airport late Tuesday, at a gate surrounded by multi-colored balloons and with a string trio softly performing, Southwest Senior VP Ron Ricks donned a red t-shirt bearing the words “Start-Up Non-Stop” as well as depictions of the Gateway Arch and Golden Gate Bridge.

He said St. Louis leaders asked him for the route. Upon closer examination, Ricks said, the airline found more than enough demand.

“It was a bit of a revelation for us to see how much progress had already been made” in building an innovation scene in St. Louis, Ricks told KMOX News. “It’s not wishful thinking,” for there to be enough tech-related industry, he added.

“No, there’s a significant presence in St. Louis already.”

In addition to Southwest’s 7-day a week flight, United Airlines has offered a weekday non-stop to San Francisco and plans to add another soon. Frontier Airlines this year is experimenting with a seasonal flight there also.

HIGH-FLYING ‘SHARK TANK’

KMOX’s Michael Calhoun is accompanying the start-ups on their cross-country excursion.

For the first hour aboard the Boeing 737, Southwest Flight 2111 was pretty normal. But when the flight attendant asked for passengers’ attention, it wasn’t to warn of turbulence ahead.

She handed the microphone over to the local start-ups. Each had sixty seconds to excitedly describe what they do.

One by one, the founders of Juristat, RoverTown, Pixel Press, Aisle 411 and Better Weekdays squeezed out of their seats, strode up the aisle, braced themselves at the front of the cabin and delivered their best elevator pitches.

Juristat founder Andrew Winship made a joke about helping lawyers. Pixel Press’ Robin Rath talked about how his childhood interest led him to create software lets users design a video game by drawing it out on a piece of paper.

“How many of you wish you were getting a student discount right now?” asked the founders of RoverTown, Mike Philip and Jeffry Harrison, who manage student discount programs at more than 100 colleges across the country. Aisle 411 was touted by Matthew Kulig as a way to avoid hunting down hard-to-find items in the grocery aisles. And Better Weekdays’ Chris Motley says the site’s name is what its job-hunting tools deliver.

A quiet — and captive — audience erupted into applause when it came time to vote. Better Weekdays and Aisle 411 tied. Both received a prize from Southwest Airlines.

The playful pitches on the plane were just a warm up. Now that the start-ups are in Silicon Valley, they’ll fan out to pin down investors, partners and more.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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