Dennis Woodbury founded eZverifi to help verify strangers before they meet up. The Suffolk resident was named a finalist in one of the 2021 Start Peninsula Micro Pitch competitions and will compete in the finals in November. Before downloading the app, users must register on Courtesy of Dennis Woodbury

About five years ago, Dennis Woodbury watched a news report on television about an elderly couple being robbed and killed while trying to purchase a car via an online sales platform.

“I was heartbroken for them,” he said. “I thought, ‘Someone has to fix this.’”

And so, he created eZverifi, an app that helps to verify a stranger before meeting up.

The Suffolk resident’s company was recently named a finalist in the 2021 Start Peninsula Micro Pitch event, a local competition with a “Shark Tank” vibe. Woodbury will compete on Nov. 3 for the chance to win $5,000 and access to local entrepreneurial resources.

Woodbury, 66, grew up in Philadelphia and earned a college degree in sociology. A short stint in the Navy brought him to the area, where he spent 25 years working in the construction industry and managing his own company.

By the end of 2018, he and a team of experts had developed a trusted and affordable tool to help consumers verify others before making an in-person transaction. Woodbury professes to always having an entrepreneurial spirit but no expertise in the technology arena.

“I used the same management skills as I’d used in construction for the software development process,” he said. His hope is to soon bring on board a local IT expert to help expand the product.

Here’s how eZverifi works. Before downloading the app, free registration is required on the eZverifi website, with the option to activate an account for $9.99. A partnership with the credit bureau TransUnion provides a two-way verification system link to the other party. Users may pay per inquiry, or purchase a bundle or bulk plan.

Woodbury connected with Start Peninsula by chance when he met Dan Girouard with the Hampton Economic Development office. “You need to get in touch with these people,” Girouard told him. So he did.

Start Peninsula began nine years ago and offers workshops, mentors and guidance to startups and entrepreneurs.

“Some people have a business idea and don’t know if they should pursue it or not,” said program director Tim Ryan.

The organization is open to Hampton Roads residents and is supported by the cities of Newport News, Hampton, Poquoson, Williamsburg, James City County and York County.

This year, two virtual Micro Pitch competitions have taken place, with two more slated for Sept. 15 and Oct. 6. Each person pitches their business idea for three minutes, followed by a two-minute question-and-answer session with a panel of judges.

Twelve, including Woodbury, will be in the final with a similar format. At least eight companies propelled by Start Peninsula have gone on to have renowned success, Ryan said. In fact, 2018 participant Safety Nailer made a deal on the television show “Shark Tank.”

Aazia Mickens-Dessaso, of Hampton, was a judge for the April Micro Pitch. She works to connect and assist local startups as executive director of Techstars’ Ecosystem Development program. She successfully competed in the pitch competition about five years ago with her mobile messaging company.

“eZverifi has the potential for great growth,” Mickens-Dessaso said.

She’s sold items via online platforms such as Craigslist and Nextdoor. “We have all these ways to sell to one another,” she said, but it’s not always safe, and “eZverifi produces a solution for that.”

Woodbury said he’s grateful for the experience with Start Peninsula.

“I’m a nuts-and-bolts guy,” he said. “So having access to those resources was just phenomenal.”

His hope is to prevent consumers from a tragic experience. “Being able to help people is the greatest blessing a person can have,” he said.

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Cindy Butler Focke,