As if it weren’t hard enough to present a business pitch in front of some of Utah’s best venture capital companies for the chance to get $150,000 in funding, today’s presenters at the final session of StartSLC’s pitch competition were assaulted with the sounds of saws cutting through steel and the toxic smells of paint and stain funneling through the halls of Church & State. But today’s presenters were the best of the preliminary rounds and didn’t let the distractions get to them.
The competition’s format had the first entrants presenting today, the final preliminary round before the judges cull the roughly 150 companies down to eight for Saturday night’s grand finale. The best were truly saved for last. A parade of Utah’s entrepreneur “rock stars” filed through to give their pitches. On the up and coming side was Austen Allred of Grasswire who has already raised a $650,000 round of funding and is a tech media darling with his real-time newsroom fact checked by everyone. On the other side were people like Jay Bean who founded and sold SEO company Orange Soda and is back with a new marketing startup called Fresh Lime. Collectively today’s presenters have raised well over $10 million in funding including grants.
While there were presenters in past weeks associated with the University of Utah, it was well represented in today’s pitches. Whether they were professors, partners, students or products, the “U” is fielding entrepreneur teams just as successful as their football and basketball programs. Progenitor Life reprograms mature human cells into stem cells that can be grown into specific tissue types. They’ve already secured business and have raised $300,000 from grants and an angel investor. Iveena offers a surgical implant for cataract surgeries. Their founder, Dr. Bala Ambati, is an ophthalmologist at the Moran Eye Center and has raised $300,000 so far. Another “U” related company is Navillum Nanotech which makes quantum dots for consumer electronic screens. They have raised $1.6 million in grants. Dave Dolan from Multifunctional Imaging has cutting edge scanning software for cardiac imaging and has raised four million dollars in grant money. U of U student, Julie Anderson, presented her alternative to bed skirts called BedBandz. While her product isn’t life saving, it is life enhancing.
Interesting ideas were all over the board in today’s penultimate pitch session. Goze is a social media application that offers more control, privacy and multi-user capability while remaining ad free. Electron Heat speeds the production cycle for plastic and composites from hours to seconds. Imahges express is web-based software that allows consumers to visualize products in their own homes. Lumivax is a laser flu vaccine for 60+ individuals who aren’t protected by regular flu vaccines. Dragonfly is quality control hardware/software for smart phone screen production. Right now, human inspection is the industry standard.
There’s no swagger quite like the swagger of experience and a large bank account. The experienced entrepreneurs really nailed their pitches today. ViDi has shipped 2,000 “GoPro” type cameras and had $1.4 million in special orders last year. After living in his car for three months, Austen Allred of Grasswire secured funding from Silicon Valley investors. If you can get money from them, you really know how to pitch and he didn’t disappoint. He’ll be presenting on the shifting media landscape on Friday. Jay Bean sold his last startup in 2012 for $27.7 million. His new startup has acquired 35 customers in 45 days and is doing $10,000 a month in revenue. David Robinson has been running companies for the past 30 years. He currently serves as CEO for Navillum Nanotech and is involved with two other companies in the contest.
Top contenders from today’s pitches would have to include Applied Biosensors which makes disposable biochemical sensors involved with the production of pharmaceuticals, injected medicines and nutrition products like Gatorade. sharetown is an e-commerce platform that allows buyers and sellers to rent/sell safely. A Craigslist meets Ebay. It’s got traction, some funding and scalability. Another company that could be up there is Game It which turns ads into a trivia game. Winners get the product for free while losers get discounts.
Besides the judges’ choices, there are two fan favorites that will make the final. Two companies stood out today that deserve your vote. The first one is First Class Ground which offers high-end ground travel for business people and families. Airline travel has become a nightmare since 9-11. The hassle, expense and time wasted by flying nearly outweighs the shorter flight time. If you’ve ever taken a high-speed train in Europe or Japan, you know there are viable alternatives to flying. Unfortunately rail travel in the U.S. is nothing like other parts of the world. First Class Ground hopes to solve the airline problem by offering overnight routes for distances less than 10 hours of travel. Comfortable, lay down seating along with Wi-Fi access allows passengers to work or sleep the night away and wake up at their destination. It’s a good idea, but probably won’t make it past the judges. Your vote can help.
The other recommendation for fan favorite is Penny Pledge. The judges will either love it or hate it so it’s being offered up here. Penny Pledge allows web users to donate money to their favorite websites online. It’s a plugin that works on any browser and can be used for a YouTube video, your favorite blog or even your local public radio station’s website. Publishers hate ads, but they need to monetize their content. Penny Pledge offers an alternative to pay walls, annoying ads and paid subscription sites.
Despite being called StartSLC, today’s competition attracted presenters from surrounding states. Retrolux headed south from Boise. They have a software platform for buying and selecting high efficiency commercial lighting. Trread hails from San Mateo. They crowdsource images from Instagram to make composite videos synced to music in a fraction of the time a professional videographer can. Finally, Ryan Angilly of Ramen traveled from Boulder, CO to pitch his web based software for product managers.
The judges certainly have some tough choices ahead of them. One event organizer, Gabriel Gunderson, is sure some people are going to be upset by the judges’ final choices. Do they select product companies or software companies? Should medical companies be excluded because FDA approval takes so long? Should they give even more money to companies that have already received funding? Should a woman founder be included for diversity’s sake or should the judges vote solely on the merits of the company? All are tough questions and it will be interesting to see the answers.
We won’t have to wait long. Fan favorite voting ends at 12 p.m. on January 29th, so get your votes in. StartSLC is expected to post the finalists at 7:30 p.m. on the 29th. To vote for the crowd favorite during the money round on the 31st, you’ll need to get tickets. Your entry fee includes 10 pitches in a 5/5 format, dinner, the keynote and awards ceremony.