What does it take to win funding from investors when pitching your idea in front of a panel of judges and a live audience? Quite a lot, and that includes more than just a great product or service idea—especially when you have just three minutes to plead your case. At DIG SOUTH 2015’s Wild Pitches, held on the third day of the interactive tech festival, competition was fierce.
The two winners were Standard Ice, for the students and early stage startups category, and Bidr, for the accelerators category. Each company won not only for the quality of their pitches, but because they clearly showed they solved a problem with a quality solution, had traction, and could make a difference in the marketplace.
The first round of Wild Pitches heard from six companies in the student or early start-up phase. Companies presented for three minutes, followed by two minutes of Q&A. The panel consisted of four judges: Dayna Grayson (Partner, NEA), Bobby Ocampo (Director, Revolution Ventures), Jake Zeller (Investor & Entrepreneur), and Troy Knauss (President, Angel Resource Institute).
During this round we heard pitches from Break-up Box and Standard Ice, both from Clemson University; ProductShout, from S.C. Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics; SAROS Desalination Project and Traderion, from CLT Joules and QC FinTech respectively, in Charlotte, NC; and Sequr, from the Harbor Accelerator right here in Charleston.
The hometown team, Sequr, took third place, winning a 2016 DIG SOUTH Startup Sponsorship Package ($2,500 value). Second place went to SAROS who received a $2,500 Sparks Grove Rapid Design & Visioning Session. Finally, the first place prize went to Josh Luetkemeyer, an MBA student at Clemson, for Standard Ice. He took home a cash prize of $7,500 from DIG SOUTH. It’s the second year in a row that a Clemson student has won the top prize (last year’s winner was SouthYeast Labs).
Luetkemeyer’s company “builds a better drink” by creating premium, crystal clear ice cubes that last longer than regular ice, producing a better tasting and less watered-down drink. During his pitch he shared that despite 16,000 Google searches every day, not one company has created a machine that produces crystal clear ice. Standard Ice’s first prototype machine, in Greenville, SC, creates a 2”x2” cube and can create 300 each day. Bars and restaurants benefit from this premium ice, which is suited for top shelf drinks, because they can charge as much as an additional $5 for each drink, and the machine makes enough for 150 drinks each day.
The excitement continued to build as eight innovative startups from accelerator programs across the US presented their best new ideas to a panel of expert judges, investors, and DIG SOUTH attendees. The panel for this round consisted of Manoj Govindan (Strategic Partnership Executive for Emerging Technology at Wells Fargo & Co), Frank Silva (Senior Associate, Boston Milennia Partners), and David Jones (General Partner, Bull City Venture Partners).
The eight companies in this category included just one from Charleston, Bidr, but four more from the Carolinas—Cathedral Leasing and Dyme from QC FinTech in Charlotte, NC, mobiPET from Bluffton, SC, and PillFill from The Iron Yard in Spartanburg. Also included in this round were Wires, from Birmingham, AL, and two from California—Export Abroad and GroupHub.
The prize structure for this round matched the first Wild Pitch session. Walking away with third place was GroupHub. In second place was Export Abroad. But it was the hometown favorite, Bidr, who took top prize in front of a loudly cheering audience. In addition to the $7,500 they won from DIG SOUTH, they picked up matching funds from investors in the crowd for a whopping $10,200.
Bidr, a text-based bidding platform that makes money by helping nonprofits make more money, grew after founder Sam Staley saw room for improvement at fundraisers held by his kids’ school. So he created an app that eventually gave rise to Bidr, which lets organizers and guests relax at fundraising events by handling all the business. Bidr allows users to bid on items and receive auction updates via their smartphones. The platform then handles all the business aspects, like collecting the money and sending receipts.
Joining Staley on the stage was Mindy Taylor. The two energetically shared with the audience what they called the bees and honey, “We make money by making nonprofits make more money,” said Taylor. Their ease on stage entertained as they shared the vision for the company, as well as the traction they have by already working with 40 companies so far and increasing their revenues by 43 percent. Judges were impressed.
What really helped both teams Standard Ice and Bidr stand out from the crowd were their pitching skills. It was clear that the founders of these companies were not only clear on what they intended to do and where they were going, but they knew how to bring everyone else on board with them. The nine criteria for the wild pitches were:
• Clarity of idea
• Problem identification
• Market Size and Accessibility
• Solution Quality
• Assessment of Competition
• Revenue Model
• Market Strategy
Not only did Standard Ice and Bidr answer these questions and more, but they also did so with charisma and precision. After all the companies had their turn on stage, and vacated the tent without their cell phones, the judges for the Accelerators Wild Pitch pointed out that winning ultimately rested on the pitch itself. That means that if you have a stellar product or service, but you lack the skills it takes to successfully pitch, you could be outgunned on the stage. If that’s the case, “Hire someone to do it for you,” advised Manoj Govindan, Strategic Partnership Executive for Emerging Technology at Wells Fargo & Co.
While the judges ultimately chose the winners, they took the pulse of the audience several times as they narrowed down to their top five and eventually top three companies. Once they officially settled on Bidr, they asked the audience if anyone wanted to add to the $7,500 cash prize. Angel Investor and ICaP mentor Chris O’Rourke, Joel Sadler and R. Keith Sauls all pitched in to increase the total winnings to $10,200.
Stanfield Gray let the audience know that the company with the shortest application—just eight words to be exact—was the winner. The audience went wild and Charleston’s very own happily held up their check as one of the next startups to watch in Silicon Harbor.