In a game played by angels and anglers, the rules were simple: pitch, ask, tell. No props or products, just proof and persuasion. The potential stakes? Thousands of dollars, plus mentoring and free office space, with the possibility that it could all lead to millions in financing from angel investors down the road.
At the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts in Richmond on Wednesday, the "E2 Pitch Contest," sponsored by Chevron, positioned eight emerging entrepreneurs and their businesses in the sight lines of eight judges. Like the television shows ("Shark Tank" and others) that have contestants flinging business startup lines into speculative waters, E2 allowed a two-minute pitch, four minutes of Q&A with expert judges, and four minutes of tough, forthright feedback. In the end, a tally of the votes identified winners, who moved forward to the next round.
The event, hosted by the Institute of Entrepreneurial Leadership at John F. Kennedy University, has added small business consulting and partnering clout from Oakland-based Inner City Advisors since E2's debut in 2013. The judges wielded impressive individual credentials: Six of them are members of local chapters of the Keiretsu Forum (KF), a global angel investment network.
KF's Northern California regional CEO, Randy Williams, served as moderator as a pinpoint-minded audience of competitors, angel investors and community members looked on and occasionally provided feedback.
The free-to-attend, free-to-apply event was the third of three contests. (Previous matchups were held in Oakland and Concord.) IEL Director Raul Deju said the presenters had been winnowed from nearly 100 applicants.
The criteria to apply -- the company in operation for two years or less and the applicant a principal in the company -- supported the project's seek-out-the-best-if-not-the-boldest mission. "We want to encourage people throughout the East Bay who might be afraid to get up in front of a group of people," Deju said.
Viditure.inc.'s Kebron Dejene presented first, promising to "disrupt how we sign documents" with a video-authorization service for digital documents. Green technology (less paper) and safety (less identity theft) combined with easy ("signatures" via phone, tablet or computer). Feedback from the judges praised the delivery but asked for more direct statements -- a theme repeated throughout the evening -- especially relating to Viditure's business model and specific investor request.
Subsequent presentations introduced crowd source rating and advertising services, a food truck/catering company and several startups relating to health. Presenters' fashion ran the gamut, too: everything from casual (T-shirt and jeans) to corporate (buttoned-up Oxford shirts) to lounge lizard (funky jackets). But the lively atmosphere was rooted in solid, serious business operations as judges drilled presenters about marketing, targeted consumers, early adopters, prototypes, number metrics, revenue, monetization, patent and trademark protections and more.
Philip O'Connor won third place with PAX Pure's natural, low-temperature water-purification capabilities. Koray Lucas' Radiant Wrap, an alternative gown for breast cancer patients, shared second place with the train control sensor system of Sravan Puttagunta's Solifice Research, Inc. First place went to the night's opener, Viditure.inc.
The four winners move to Concord on April 7 for the semifinals. The grand finish will be held May 16 at the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, where up to $3,000 will be awarded to three presenters -- selected by the audience this time -- and the top vote-getter will receive six months of mentoring and free office space.