The people who sponsored a recent business competition for female entrepreneurs were surprised by the number of women who signed up. And in the end, no one was more surprised by the results than the winner.
Lisa Wong spent 10 years on Wall Street and helped develop a company that solves a common data problem. However, she had never pitched the company to raise capital. In October she signed up for a pitch competition called Fueling the Growth (scroll down to see excerpts from the finalists) that put women entrepreneurs in front of investors. She’d always worked in a male-dominated field and thought about how she was perceived.
“You always think twice before you talk about yourself and position yourself, there’s always a concern that the men won’t necessarily take you seriously,” Wong said.
Wong studied how to build the perfect pitch, and condensed her presentation to an exact seven minutes.
“I would say that it took probably the equivalent of days to actually prepare all the materials that went into that seven-minute time period.”
Wong’s product is a technology platform that cleans up data so it can be analyzed. Often analysts do this by hand…and it’s not their favorite part of the job.
“You don’t go to grad school, you don’t go to undergraduate school, hoping that you can spend every waking hour poring over spreadsheets, Excel tables and data, and cleaning and scrubbing it.”
Wong and her co-founder call their company Liquidaty. Wong memorized every word she was going to say to accompany the Liquidaty slides.
“The place I practiced the most, in my apartment bathroom, which is the only private space I have in the middle of the night, between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. usually when everyone was asleep and quiet and I could hear myself.”
Wong made it through the semi-final competition in front of judges at the Stamford Innovation Center in Connecticut. She walked outside and continued to practice her pitch out loud.
“I sat in front of the Target in Stamford in between the semi-finalists and finalists round for about an hour and a half. I think everyone was considering reporting me to the local authorities.”
In the evening, Wong explained her product a final time before a new panel of investors.
“Simply put, there is not a one single way to standardize data that you create today, tomorrow, and even yesterday.”
She laid out the problem – in big data, even something as simple as the name of a state might need to be standardized.
“And Connecticut could be represented as CT, or Conn, or spelled out, and what if there’s a spelling error?”
All told, 10 women made their pitches. Win or lose, their exposure to investors was key. Overall in the United States, only about 3 percent of venture capital money goes to women-led companies.
“I just fundamentally don’t believe that women have only 3 percent of the good ideas out there,” says Barbara Clarke, an angel investor who judged the pitch contest. She called the array of women-led companies an embarrassment of riches.
“When I hear investors tell me they can’t find any women to invest in, they aren’t looking, they’re just not looking, it’s just laziness.”
The audience vote went to a health tech company. The judges, however, called Wong to the front of the room.
“I was beyond shocked. You could see all the 10 companies’ names and how many votes they had received from the audience, and our company garnered zero votes. I truly was not expecting to be recognized at all at the competition,” Wong said.
Susan Bollach, another judge, says not everyone thinks like an angel investor. She has seen many great businesses that pay out dividends. “But that wouldn’t be what an angel investor is looking for. At the end of the day there needs to be some kind of ability to exit or sell the company so the investors can get their returns,” Bollach said.
She and the judges were impressed with Liquidaty’s potential for growth. They also liked that Wong and her co-founder each had a decade of experience in their field.
“They have enough business experience to be a founder of a business and then know how to move it forward and manage it. That ten years of experience for me is a real sweet spot,” Bollach said.
In the end, Wong went home with $50,000 to grow her business. But perhaps more important was the validation. One judge said that as great as the evening was, she looks forward to a time when a competition like this will no longer be necessary to get women out there pitching their ideas.
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Fueling the Growth Competition Winners
Liquidaty - 1st place, $50,000
Liquidaty is a platform of algorithms that standardizes complex data sets for business looking to automate data cleansing and facilitate data analysis.
Scouted - 2nd place, $30,000
Scouted is a job matching platform that connects college students and recent grads with jobs at successful companies.
My Gene Counsel and FROTH - 3rd place co-winners, $20,000 each
My Gene Counsel is a suite of digital tools and accurate, unbiased genetic health information that is continually updated by genetic counselors, physicians and health advocates.
FROTH is a mobile beverage discovery and tasting platform.
Corrie Health - 4th place and Audience Winner, $16,500
Corrie Health is a mobile application to help cardiac patients manage their own health from the starting point of hospital admission, improving their recovery and skills after a heart attack.
Mobility Designed is a medical device startup seeking to redefine mobility for millions who face mobility challenges. Their first product is M+D crutches as described by Liliana Junger, CEO.
Torigen Pharmaceuticals is a veterinary cancer immunotherapy that uses the patient’s own tumor cells to stimulate the immune system to fight the cancer. Ashley Kalinauskas describes the problem and their solution.
Unbound is a sexual lifestyle company with the tagline of “Believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe.” Founder Polly Rodriguez describes the current way women can buy sexual products and how her company is changing the industry in these excerpts.
Sproutel is a product development studio focused on kids’ health. They employ an empathy-driven design process to scope, develop, and launch products that help children build a foundation for healthy lives.
Wellinks is a wearable health technology company dedicated to improving clinical outcomes through education and creation of good habits around treatment. Co-founder Ellen Su talks about her product as it applies to scoliosis braces.