Today at The Washington Post in Washington, D.C., there was a gathering of 14 entrepreneurs pitching their ideas to an esteemed panel of four judges. The event, InnovateHer, was the final Small Business Week event put on by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
The purpose was to identify ways to help women and their families by providing a product, service, or technology.
As I first entered the venue, I could tell that the energy was high. The finalists were buzzing with last minute preparations, and onlookers were anxious to hear their presentations.
First to the stage was Erin Andrew, Associate Administrator of SBA who introduced her superior, Maria Contreras-Sweet. Contreras-Sweet was quick to dive into the statistics: women made only 3% of venture capital decisions. A statistic she believes is far too low. At the other end of the spectrum, she shared that this month marks the 62nd consecutive month of job growth in the United States, with small businesses making up two-thirds of that growth!
So with the InnovateHER event today, she hoped to continue the strength shown in small business, and bridge the gap between women being part of the success.
The event was very fast-paced with only one hour to hear from 14 contestants. Therefore, Andrew had to lay out the rules for the day:
- Each finalist has two minutes to pitch with a 10 second warning plus two minutes for questions form the judges.
- Finalists are allowed one single PowerPoint slide, which will be projected on the screen and also double as a handout for the judges.
- Finalists are also allowed to display a prototype of their product/service or other physical depiction.
- Apart from the slide/handout and prototype, no other props or other visuals are allowed.
With $15,000 on the line for the grand prizewinner, it is intimidating that these entrepreneurs have to sell their ideas in less than two minutes. But here were the individuals that took on the challenge:
- Heather Badal, LoEapps Drive Control
- Sophia Berman, Trusst Lingerie
- Lisa Crites, The Shower Shirt Company
- Wendy David, GestVision, Inc.
- Helen Denise, Hilin Life Products, Inc.
- Joseph Dorsey, Backseat Baby Alarm2
- Bethany Edwards, Lia Diagnostics
- Rozalynn Goodwin, GaBBY Bows
- Cherie Mathews, Heal In Comfort
- Adriana Moscatelli, Play Works Studio
- Seabren Reeves, Bitzy Baby
- CJ Scarlet, Tiger Eye Sensor, Inc.
- Candace Sparks, Baby Bedside
While waiting for the pitches to start, I was able to meet a few of the people from my table. Lucky for me, I sat with a couple of the developers from LoEapps Drive Control, an app protecting drivers from the urge to text and drive. I asked developer, Nialls Chavez how he felt being finalist at InnovateHER:
It’s humbling. We’ve put thousands of hours into this and being able to share it with others who have put just as much or more time into their own work—it’s humbling.
Right he was.
After hearing about products that will bring science games to young girls interested in tech (Play Works Studio), a crib bumper solution to help protect babies during sleep (Bitzy Baby), or the double-faced hair bow company headed by an eight year-old (GaBBY Bows); I knew many hours were invested and the judges had a very tough decision to make.
During the judges’ deliberation, Cindy Bates (Microsoft Vice President of Small Business) shared why Microsoft wanted to sponsor the winnings for the champions of InnovateHER. What it came down to was to empower women to leverage all of their resources, because there are people out there who want them to succeed.
This was especially evident as panel moderator Carol Roth led an investor discussion with three women who all had an impressive background in financing: Dayna Grayson (NEA), Daphne Dufresne (RLJ Equity Partners), and Alicia Syrett (Pantegrion Capital LLC). The concensus was if you’re a woman looking for early stage investing, you need to prove your innovative product or service brings convenience to a larger market; because if you can only provide for a niche market, an investor will not see a margin to influence them to back you early.
So which InnovateHER finalist did the SBA and Microsoft deem worthy of the investment today?
Please congratulate the following winners:
3rd Place: Sophia Berman, Trusst Lingerie
The lingerie company providing a better bra for larger busted women. Filling a gap in a market that is now only “scaled to fit, but not engineered to support.”
2nd Place: Lisa Crites, The Shower Shirt
The garment for breast cancer mastectomy patients (or other surgeries) to wear in the shower keeping surgery sites dry and clean for healthy recovery. Addressing the market of the 300,000+ women diagnosed with breast cancer or other surgery-necessary diseases.
1st Place: Bethany Edwards, Lia Diagnostics
The pregnancy test giving a less expensive, more sustainable, and easier-to-use solution from the $730 million pregnancy test product market that hasn’t innovated their products in over 30 years. With a flushable material, this pregnancy test fills the market for women who would like to be more discreet in this matter, and for those who do not want to be wasteful.
It was an incredibly inspiring day, where I got to see the ideas and innovations that individuals can produce for a better world. And while not everyone could go home with a big check, the SBA made a promise to continue to work with all of the finalists so they can receive whatever support they need to take their business to the next level.
If you have an idea or need funding for your small business, we suggest checking out SBA.gov to learn more about how you can get your company off the ground. All of the finalists started in their homes, with a simple website, or at a hack-a-thon; so all it takes is to not give up on your idea!
Which entrepreneur finalist piques your interest the most?
Share with us in the comments!
About the Author: Deanna Zaucha is the Senior Specialist of Content Marketing for Webs and Pagemodo, and also manages our social media presence. She can be found on a dance floor, or on her iPhone keeping up with trends in marketing and tech. Get more from Deanna on the Webs Blog and Twitter.