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Hundreds applied to the FOCUS100 Pitch-It Competition, but only four made the cut. These four promising start-ups founded/co-founded by black women proved to be the main attraction, not only because of their live products, but because of their experience, education, passion, and business acumen under pressure. All of the winners received coaching sessions with Jeanne Sullivan of Starvest Partners and Lauren Maillan Bias of Gen Y Capital. But only one stood victorious. The winner walked away with:
- Finalist status for TechStars NYC 2013 session
- A Non-Pitch Meeting with Andreessen Horowitz, and
- A Meeting with Comcast Ventures.
Can you guess who won?
Marcia Wade Talbert
The finalists were judged by a cadre of investors, which included:
Brian Watson – Investment Team Member, Union Square Ventures
Kelly Hoey – Founder and Managing Director, Women Innovate Mobile (WIM)
Jeanne Sullivan – General Partner, Starvest Partners
Deborah Jackson – Founder, Women innovate Mobile
Lauren Maillian Bias – Founding Partner, Gen Y Capital Partners
David Tisch – Founder, BoxGroup/TechStars NYC
Omoigui – Managing Partner of EchoVC Partners
Rachel Brooks, CitizenMade
As the co-founder and CEO of CitizenMade, a product customization toolkit for eCommerce, Rachel Brooks hopes to make an impact in the high growth, mass customization market. CitizenMade just opened up to a Beta test market in October 2012.
Someone who enjoys making her own clothing, Brooks is also adept at working with companies to find digital solutions for small and large businesses. A Chicago-based digital strategist for brands and software companies like Got Milk?, Reebok, and Gatorade she recently completed the Google-sponsored NewMe Accelerator fellowship in San Francisco. Previously she has developed research documents and strategy for Reebok’s global marketing group, uncovering market trends for niche urban youth markets, with special interest in Reebok Classics collection.
She’s received accolades from Stanford Professor Vivek Wadhwa, who described her as a “visionary” and her product as “forward reaching.” Her role on the CitizenMade team involves product development and managing a team of engineers. Her responsibilities also include building partnerships with hardware & manufacturing companies to strategically scale production of custom-made products.
VC Feedback for Rachel:
The judges were impressed with Brooks, but they chided her for not providing enough information about her team. “I’m tryin’ to figure out if you have enough back ground to do this. Will this current team be able to execute on the product, but I don’t know anything about the team,” said Eghosa Omoigui. Also, after her pitch Brooks told the judges that CitizenMade would be opening up in Beta on Monday. One judge said that information should have been given earlier in the pitch.
Marlo Rencher, GoodSweat
GoodSweat is a crowdfunding platform to help people raise money and awareness for the causes they love. It enables charity sports participants—those who run, walk or just move for a cause—to create and promote their own custom events. The platform leverages social media to raise money and solicit support and awareness.
Founder and Michigan State University graduate, Marlo Rencher is no stranger to entrepreneurship. In 1999, before launching GoodSweat, Rencher co-founded Jazzdigital Marketing where she managed clients like UAW-Ford, BMG Entertainment, GlobalHue and Henry Ford Health System.
Rencher has an MBA from the Ross Business School at the University of Michigan and will receive a Ph.D. this year for her research in business anthropology at Wayne State University. Her dissertation research explores the socio-cultural aspects of the entrepreneurial process in the city of Detroit.
VC Feedback for Marlo
The judges said that Rencher’s presentation skills were really solid, but overall the presentation could have been shorter. In addition, judges commented that she should have mentioned her high profile advisers at the beginning of her presentation and put less emphasis on social sharing.
Finally, Bias said that the quality of her slide deck wasn’t consistent. Some screenshots were nice and professional, while others could have used more work.
Zuhairah Scott Washington, Kahnoodle
Kahnoodle is a mobile app that makes it easier for busy couples to do more of the fun and thoughtful stuff they did when they first met. The app rewards couples with real world discounts on dates and vacations for succeeding.
As the product of a broken home, the founder and newlywed was intent on preparing her marriage with resources and tools that would allow them to build and sustain a strong, healthy relationship. The advice Washington found in self-help books and magazines seemed empty, so she ventured forth to create something with more girth.
With an MBA and JD from Harvard, this unassuming entrepreneur, investor, and seasoned business professional packs a powerhouse punch with over a decade of digital media, private equity, and business development experience in global markets including London, New York, and Dubai. She’s worked at Goldman Sachs, Booz Allen Hamilton, and MTV Networks. Most recently she acted as director of business development and reported directly to the CEO and COO of Europe’s largest local search and user-generated review website, Qype.
VC Feedback for Zuhairah:
Judges said that Washington did an excellent job drawing them in with her story and her passion for the product. However, she didn’t escape without a critique. “Spend more time talking about the players on your team… and explaining how you intend to execute your product better than your competition,” said Bias.
Mandela Schumacher-Hodge of Tioki
Tioki is an online professional network exclusively for educators. Schumacher-Hodge and her team created the name after a month of brainstorming. It empower educators with the right tools to build their online brand and the right network to expand their influence.
Tioki won first place at StartUp Weekend Education; was identified as a Top 30 Edtech company by LAUNCH, a global initiative to identify and support the innovative work; and is currently backed by Kapor Capital, 500 StartUps, and Imagine K-12.
A former 6th grade teacher in South Central Los Angeles and Pacoima, CA, Schumacher-Hodge is a Teach for America alumna who holds a masters degree in education administration and policy. Most recently, she was a doctoral student at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Sciences.
VC Feedback for Mandela:
“I want the investors to walk away with clear answers to these questions: Why us? Why this? Why now?” said Schumacher-Hodge about the thoughts going through her head while she prepared her pitch.
Her preparation paid off, but the judges wanted her to repeat it. “It is so critical to be clear about what you’re doing. It doesn’t hurt to say it a couple of times,” explained Jeanne Sullivan of Starvest. The judges also said she should be careful assuming that the investors know what data correlates to what and don’t assume that they understand why your data is even important. “Connect the dots throughout your pitch,” said Bias.
And the winner is: Zuhairah Scott Washington, founder of Kahnoodle. (Left)FOCUS100 founder and organizer Kathryn Finney poses with Washington.
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