Pitches are no longer confined to the elevator.
Businesswomen across the nation pitched their startups to investors while riding Ubers in New Haven, Kansas City, Baltimore and three other U.S. cities on Wednesday. The event, which was created in collaboration with Uber, business accelerator The Refinery and the Kauffman Foundation, kicked off the “Fueling the Growth” competition. The 20 semifinalists selected from UberPITCH will be notified Nov. 2 of whether they have advanced to the next round in Stamford, where they will compete for $125,000 in prize money.
The event’s goal was to empower female entrepreneurs, whose companies received only 3 percent of total venture capital funding between 2011 and 2013 when they were the ones in a CEO position, according to The Refinery co-founder Jennifer Gabler.
“It’s about making those connections for women entrepreneurs in real time,” Gabler said.
Out of 275 applicants, 150 entrepreneurs received redemption codes to plug into the Uber app, Gabler said. After a participant punched in the code, she was given the option to request an UberPITCH. Once the request was made, a female Uber driver picked her up and she had the opportunity to give a seven-minute pitch to an investor in the back seat.
In New Haven, pickup spots are located outside several coffee shops, such as Blue State and Starbucks Coffee.
“I thought it was fun. It was a creative idea,” Elidah CEO Gloria Kolb, one of the 150 entrepreneurs, said.
However, that does not mean the pitch session went smoothly at first: Originally, Kolb was picked up by an Uber driver who had previously been given a promotion code, but had then been notified she was no longer needed for the event. Thus, there was no investor in the backseat when Kolb entered the car, Kolb said.
After the confusion, Kolb hopped into a second vehicle with an actual investor, Cynthia Tseng from Fairview Capital. Kolb then pitched Elidah’s product, a device used to treat stress urinary incontinence.
Unlike many treatments for SUI that require invasive surgery, Elidah’s device is worn in the perineal region for 20 minutes and electrically stimulates nerves and muscles, acting as Kegel exercises. Treatment continues for four to five days a week during a six to eight week period. Once therapy is completed, patients use the device weekly to maintain continence, Kolb said.
“It was nice that the investor was a woman; that always makes it easier for me,” Kolb said.
Even though one-third of women experience urinary incontinence, Kolb added, some male investors don’t find enough value in the product.
Kolb enjoyed the atmosphere the car drive created, she said, since the proposal was conversational instead of seeming like a pitch.
As a result, the entrepreneurs were able to receive productive feedback. Hugo CEO Leslie Krumholz said she considered using a slideshow on a tablet for her pitch but decided not to since the competition rules were unclear. After she presented her business — a mobile application that would allow patients to record their personal health history from medical offices and opt into voluntarily sharing the information with data users — Crossroads Venture Group Executive Director Mary Anne Rooke told Krumholz that a slideshow would have benefitted the pitch, according to Krumholz.
In addition, Rooke advised Krumholz not to hold back on the positive high-profile reviews the product has received in future presentations.
The semifinalists will compete in Stamford on Nov. 16.