By Paul Schott Connecticut Post, Bridgeport
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The "Fueling the Growth" Pitch competition in Connecticut was organized by Westport-based business accelerator "The Refinery." The competition aims to tackle an ongoing lack of access to funding for women entrepreneurs.
Until a few weeks ago, Lisa Wong had never participated in a business pitch competition. She would not need much practice to master the format.
The data-analytics startup that Wong and her husband founded in 2014, Liquidaty, emerged Wednesday night as the winner of Fueling the Growth with UberPitch, a new nationwide pitch competition for technology-focused and women-led companies. As the first-prize winner, the Manhattan-based Liquidaty will receive a $50,000 prize to expand its operations.
"Winning a pitch competition that is really supporting women entrepreneurs means a tremendous amount," Wong said in an interview. "Part of the funds that we won tonight will be used to help us hire more talent. And some of the top candidates we're looking to fill those positions are women."
Fueling the Growth was organized by Westport-based business accelerator The Refinery, with support from Uber, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Darien Rowayton Bank and the Fairfield-based accounting firm Caposella, Cohen LLC. The competition aims to tackle an ongoing lack of access to funding for women entrepreneurs. Women-led startups received less than 3 percent of venture capital from 2011 to 2013, according to The Refinery co-founder Janis Collins.
Twenty-five semifinalists were invited to present Wednesday at the Stamford Innovation Center, a day that culminated in presentations in the evening by 10 finalists.
During the pitches Wednesday night, the finalists explained their business models and outlined their growth plans. They faced a panel of judges who quizzed them on their businesses' finances, consumer bases, competitiveness and ability to scale up.
"I didn't anticipate the quality and depth of the pitches; each one of them could have been a winner," said judge Tracy Killoren Chadwell, a partner at the Greenwich-based 1843 Capital. "They'll all be very successful."
In her pitch, Wong described the need for her company, which has attracted a number of clients from the banking and hedge fund sectors.
"There is not one single way to standardize data that you create today, tomorrow and that you made yesterday," Wong told the judges. "What you need is a solution that can keep your data private, integrate it easily with third-parties ... and you need to be able to formulate a process that can be reliably scaled, replicated, automated and audited."
Fueling the Growth consisted of an initial round last month in which entrepreneurs pitched their businesses to investors during Uber rides in Stamford; New Haven; Providence, R.I.; Washington, D.C.; and Kansas City. The competition attracted some 300 applications for 150 pitch slots.
"The Uber pitch was actually fabulous because you felt more casual about the pitch, having that one-on-one format with your investor," Wong said. "To be able to receive that instantaneous feedback was extremely helpful. It actually impacted the way I altered my original pitch for tonight."
In addition to Liquidaty, the finalists included firms focusing on gene testing and counseling, human resources, sexual lifestyle, heart health, veterinary cancer care, alcoholic drinks tasting, interactive health education for children and medical devices.
Scouted, a Manhattan-based talent recruitment company founded by two alumnae of Westport-based hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, took the $30,000 runner-up prize. It will use the funds to build up its sales and technology personnel and marketing operations.
"I didn't really know what to expect," Scouted co-founder Jacqueline Loeb said of the Uber ride in Stamford in which she participated last month. "I was like 'Should I bring my computer; is that going to be too formal?' But it ended up being quite nice because I was able to connect quite easily with the woman (investor) sitting literally next to me."
Froth, a digital cocktail tasting membership, and Gene Counsel shared third place, each winning $20,000. Corrie Health, which developed a cardiology care kit app, won the $15,000 fourth-place prize and audience award.
Collins said that The Refinery would build on the competition's momentum by creating a new fund for investors to support companies certified by her organization.
"We are committed to fueling the growth of women-led companies," Collins said.