Startup Pitch Competition at WIE International Leadership Conference
June 19, 2018

Women-in-Engineering International Leadership Conference (WIE ILC) is IEEE’s premier conference dedicated to help female professionals to succeed in the STEM. It caters to a broad audience of professionals in academia, industry, and government. One of the highlight’s of this year’s Conference was the WIE ILC Startup Pitch Competition organised by IEEE Santa Clara Valley Consumer Electronics (CE) Society and IEEE Young Professionals Santa Clara Affinity Group, with the goal to inspire, assist and engage female entrepreneurs and help them succeed in the startup environment. The event took place on 22nd May 2018.

The 2018 WIE ILC Startup Pitch Competition attracted 12 startups by female entrepreneurs:

  • AbleThrive: Health platform for spinal cord injury recovery,
  • Axis Earth: Social and Business network for sports,
  • CultureClout: Mobile app platform for event-based community,
  • Effne: Online marketplace for luxury wholesale furniture,
  • Gavano: Predictive energy analytics for data center,
  • Gr8er Good Games: Telemystery box for remote worker engagement,
  • Obe Inc. (2nd Place): Smart products and services for pet care,
  • ROVO: Customer focused marketing platform
  • SmartGurlz (1st Place Winner): Teaching girls to code,
  • SmartQED (3rd Place): AI-driven workbench for IO Ops and data centers,
  • SoleMate Solutions: Personal crutches rehabilitation solution,
  • STEM-Away: The “LinkedIn” for students and junior professionals in STEM,

Prior to the event, the entrepreneurs had the opportunity to polish their pitch decks assisted by a group of venture capitalists, corporate executives and startup coaches. During the Pitch Competition, the entrepreneurs presented to a panel of 8 venture capitalists and executives.

The organisers identified that difficulty in fundraising as a key obstacle for many first time female entrepreneurs because of reasons such as stereotypes by the male-dominated venture capital firms, lack of female role-models, or restive policies – to name a few.  A startup coaching session led by venture capitalists, corporate executives and professional startup coaches was organised to address this issue. The coaching session not only gave entrepreneurs an opportunity to polish their pitch decks and practice their presentations, but also the opportunity to foster a mentorship-like bond with the startup community leaders.

The actual pitch competition was about 1.5 hours long, with each startup presenting to a panel of judges for 5 minutes, followed by Q&A. The organizers assembled a panel of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and executives that span across different industries. Since this was a female entrepreneur-tailed event, the judging panel consisted of roughly half female members. The winning team of the pitch competition – SmartGurlz, was awarded a $5000 cash prize. In addition, the top three teams were awarded: Co-working space provided by Digital Garage, Marketing assessment session provided by JJR Marketing, and Legal consulting by Royse Law Firm (Obe Inc. – 2nd Place, SmartQED – 3rd Place).

The event attracted more than 100 attendees and was very well received. In addition to the pitch competition itself,  Jillian Manus gave a keynote titled “The Product Begins with You”, where she talked about building the mindset and mentality to succeed in an often male-dominated venture capitalist environment. Her motto “We invest in you first, then your product”, highlights the need for a strong team as the foundation of a successful startup. Also, there was a panel discussion (Panelists: Joseph Wei, Jillian Manus, Mary Vincent and Prachi Baxi) on fund-raising for female entrepreneurs. These sessions gave attendees insights into the recipe for building a successful company, as well as an opportunity to ask questions.

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