Two-Minute Pitch Competition Yields Two Startups To Watch, in Internet and Energy

6/23/08Follow @gthuang

“Anyone know any investor jokes?” asks Carolynn Duncan of FundingUniverse. A pause, then someone on the side of the stage shouts “Yahoo!”

We’re at Seattle LivePitch, in the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in West Seattle, on a sunny Friday afternoon. (On the way over, I got my first look at the snow-capped Olympic Mountains—awesome.) Hosted by FundingUniverse, a Utah-based site that connects startups and investors (and has recently expanded to the Northwest), the event gives 14 entrepreneurs two minutes each to pitch their startup to a panel of judges and the audience. But it’s not an investor forum or a fundraising event. “The point is to get the community together, for entrepreneurs to pitch in a safe environment and practice taking questions, so we can give them feedback,” says Duncan.

The judges were selected from the local innovation community: Rebecca Lovell from Alliance of Angels, Jim Roberts of UW Tech Transfer, Buzz Bruggeman of ActiveWords, Nathan Kaiser of nPost.com (a resource site for entrepreneurs), Todd Dean of the Northwest Keiretsu Forum (angel network), Tom Ryan of Atlas Recruiting (angel investing meets recruiting) and John Kauffman of law firm Stoel Rives.

The panel of judges was lined up on stage, and the house lights dimmed as we were given the “five rules of LivePitch”—making it feel like a cross between a spelling bee and “Fight Club.” Most of the rules were self-evident (don’t monopolize an entrant during networking time, don’t sell your services). And we, the audience members, would help determine the winner by each “investing” in two entrepreneurs after the session—whomever we thought had the best pitches.

One by one, the 14 entrants came up to the stage. Their pitches were all over the map in terms of tech sector, revenue model, target customer, style, and grace. The ideas ranged from conventional (Lilipip, a filtered YouTube for kids on mobile devices) to different (Sports 4E, automating management of sports leagues) to downright random (Robber Dotter, bringing Swedish bands to market in the U.S.—the founder claimed to be fluent in Swedish, but I would need Erik, our visiting journalism fellow back in Boston, to tell if she was pulling a John Candy in “Splash”).

In the end, I voted for Bryce Baril’s MarketOutsider and Lawrence Winnerman’s Elektronova. Baril’s site acts like a “robotic financial analyst,” he says, by scouring the Web for articles about a given company and automatically rating whether the news is positive or negative. Winnerman’s company sells networked sensor “plugs” for appliances (primarily refrigerators) that monitor electricity usage and could eventually save households 10 percent on their electric bill, he says. Both gave polished pitches and responded well to questions, which came rapid-fire from both the audience and the panel: How do you reach your users? What’s the market opportunity? How does your product compare to X, Y, and Z? What’s the expected return on investment in five years?

In the end, Elektronova came in number one in both the judges’ and the audience voting, while MarketOutsider came in number two. I was slightly disappointed—I was hoping to be different from the pack. Ultimately, MarketOutsider appealed to both my artificial-intelligence side and my interest in media, while Elektronova had a certain charm I can’t quite put my finger on… but I guess it electrified everyone else too.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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