“7% of investor money goes to women-led startups, and only 0.2% to women-of-color. We have a lot of work to do”.
-- Women Who Tech founder Allyson Kapin, kicking off the 3rd Women Startup Challenge
Yeah really. And Women Who Tech has indeed been doing a lot of work over the years -- here’s a blog post I did back in 2010 on one of their telesummits. So I was excited for the Women Startup Challenge, hosted at the LinkedIn headquarters. And it didn’t disappoint!
After a great networking hour (with wonderful food!), and quick welcomes from Allyson, long-time Women Who Tech advisor Lisa Stone of BlogHer, sponsor Craig Newmark of craigslist and craigconnects fame, and Jacqueline Jones of LinkedIn’s Diversity and Inclusion team, we moved on to the pitch competition. Each of the ten finalists had four minutes for a pitch describing the problem, their solution, the team, and the business opportunity, followed by four minutes of questions from the judges.
I loooove pitch competitions, and this event really reminded me why. The description of the finalists beforehand was impressive; as Lisa Stone said during the networking, the bar has risen a lot over the last decade. In person, they were even better.
The pitches were outstanding: crisp and polished, presenting great teams with interesting products and excellent business opportunities. (No need to take my word for it, though: you can see some excerpts on the Audience Awards site.) The variety of the companies gave a great chance to learn about a broad range of interesting industries -- health and wellness, recruiting, financial planning, clean tech, end-of-life planning, custom manufacturing and virtual reality. The judges helped as well, with probing questions; and Allyson and Justyn Ashley kept things moving along at a fine pace.
One thing that really struck me was the supportive feel of the event, both from the audience and between the competitors. It’s something Allyson brought up as well when we talked afterwards. Sure, it’s certainly a competition; in another way, though, we’re all on the same side.
Stephanie Lampkin’s pitch for Blendoor (“merit-based matching”) really stood out for me. I was already excited about Blendoor, an intriguing app with a Tinder-like interface that reduces the effect of unconscious bias in recruiting by hiding people’s names and photos. Before last night, though, I wondered whether it was just a feature that other recruiting apps could easily copy. Stephanie’s extraordinary presentation helped me understand that this is just what that gets them in the door, and their bigger vision is to reinvent the way recruiting is done. Talk about music to my ears: diversity as a strategic advantage :)
A few other highlights:
Suelin Chen of Cake had the single best line of the night, when talking about the importance of end-of-life planning: “100%. That’s the percentage of people who will die.”
Kiah Williams of SIRUM had the most intriguing elevator pitch: “the match.com for unused, unexpired medicine, matching it with people in need”
Annie Mohaupt of Mohop who digitally fabricates mass-customizable footwear on demand, had the best shoes -- and the most interesting factoid: off-the-shelf shoes are a good fit for only 15%.
Samantha Rudolph of Babyation, Katie Brenner of Blu Diagnostics, and Denise Terry of EmbraceFamily Health all did a great job of relating their own personal experiences to their products.
As is always the case with pitch competitions, there’s a lot of value for all the participants: exposure, coaching, and networking. Still, the prizes are a big part of it. Blendoor won the audience’s vote, via Audience Awards, and got $120,000 in cloud services from IBM. Blu Diagnostics, an app and device to provide women and couples with medically accurate fertility data, won a $10,000 investment from Backstage Capital. And the grand prize, $50,000 cash (donate by Craig Newmark), went to SIRUM. Congrats to all the winners!
And congrats as well to Allyson and the Women Who Tech team, who continue to do a great job building community and supporting women in technology. Up next for them: Women Startup Challenge Europe.
Something to look forward to!