Hiding in Plain Sight—Top Tech Startups You Didn’t See Coming

Fueling the Growth with #UberPITCH Showcase

Fueling the Growth with #UberPITCH Showcase

When I mention the statistic that less than 4% of venture funding goes to women-led companies, someone always says, “Maybe women aren’t starting as many high-growth potential companies as men,” or “Maybe the ones women start just aren’t as good.”  And, I wonder, do people really believe that nonsense? It must be unconscious bias kicking in.


If there is one thing we at The Refinery (an accelerator for women-led tech companies) have learned, it’s that there are more high quality, high-growth potential women-led tech companies than any of us suspected. And, they are solving both business and consumer problems.


Here’s our proof: The Refinery teamed up with Uber and the Kauffman Foundation to host a $100,000 Pitch Competition for the top women-led tech companies from 5 cities. In keeping with Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest, we focused on the emerging startup ecosystems of Kansas City, Baltimore, Stamford, New Haven, and Providence to uncover companies that investors may not already know about.


And, we created a winning scenario where selected companies in the qualifying round would get a chance to pitch one-on-one to an investor for 7 minutes, and then receive 7 minutes of feedback while riding in an Uber.


With grassroots marketing, using mostly word of mouth and our network, we launched the competition with a short application timeframe. Collaborators such as 37Angels, Pipeline Angels, Astia, MassChallenge and DreamIt Ventures helped us get the word out.


What happened was amazing. Within a 5-week window, we received over 300 applications from women-led tech companies in our selected cities and several from as far away as North Carolina and Texas. 


Limited by space in the 5 cities, we were only able to select the top 150 companies (less than half that applied) to pitch in the Uber qualifying round, leaving many more amazing companies behind.


Investors who had heard the pitches in the Ubers had the tough job of selecting the top 25 (again, leaving many qualified companies behind) to move on to a showcase and pitch-off for a position in the top ten spot. It was a near impossible task to pick those top 25 companies. As one of the investors riding in an Uber, I was faced with 4 out of the 6 companies I listened to being completely qualified and impressive. One of the other investors told us it was the most qualified group he had encountered in a “speed dating scenario.”


The showcase and pitch-off was an impressive collection of companies, and our judges during both the semi-finals and finals had the equally tough job of selecting the top companies for the cash awards. It was an exciting day and night in which every company that pitched seemed better than the one previous.


One our VC judges said, “I am so impressed by the quality of and prospects for the finalists. It is so encouraging to see these entrepreneurs embrace start-ups and create new businesses.”


Investors voted with their money. An attending investor told us the event far surpassed his expectations, and that he hoped to invest in several of the companies. One month later, the investor wired his investments to two of the top ten companies that pitched.


The moral of the story? Women are creating amazing, high-growth tech companies that solve the problems of businesses and consumers. They need to be uncovered, provided visibility, and in some cases, the guidance and confidence to ask for the money to get funded. Why aren’t they getting visibility? That’s for the next blog.


For more information on our amazing Fueling the Growth Pitch Competition Semi-Finalists, please see our website.



Take the Quiz



Take the Quiz--Are you Ready for The Refinery?

1. You are stuck. Many times around 2-3 years, you need to make decisions about where your company is going, but it’s hard to do without guidance, strategic thinking, or just plain validation.  The Refinery will help you move forward by answering the big questions:

·      How do you create a repeatable sales model for sustainable growth?  Is your messaging and branding geared to your Target Customer? Have you really thought through your channel strategy? What about a strategic partner? Upsides? Downsides?

·      Should you take outside funding and if so, how much? From whom? How do you get to them? What information should you share? When are you ready? Are your financials in good shape?

·      What does your team need to look like for success? How do you hire quality people for your startup that will stay with you? What do you pay them? What should you look for in an Advisory Board? How do you find them? Pay them? Fire them? How do you become an effective CEO?

2.  You don’t have time for training.  Clients who have gone through our program say they learned more about their own company in 12 weeks than they could have anywhere else in 2 years. Our program is a personalized, mini-MBA. We do hands-on problem solving with your company.  We continue to enhance, iterate, and customize the material for every cohort.  In addition, as a checkpoint, we regularly review the program with Harvard executive education leaders.

3. You don’t know which financial model or tools to use.  You will leave our program with tools and templates that will go with you as you grow you company. Whether it is our financial model, milestone roadmap, funding strategy, human resource packet, pitch deck, or one–pager, you will have the confidence that your financial modeling is sound.

4.  You have received lots of free, contradictory advice.  We know many people love to provide free advice, and we have watched many a startup flip flop direction because of all the varied advice they receive. Our mentoring program was specifically designed to avoid this. You will meet and work with incredible expert mentors in a structured way.  We have tapped into the intellectual and financial capital of Fairfield County to participate in our program.  All mentors are curated and matched to each company. They know your space and how to navigate it.

5. You need to talk to someone outside your company or family. Growing your own company can be lonely, and there is nothing like having a peer group to share resources, solutions, and problem solving. You will join a community that can relate to your challenges, revel in your successes, and provide a tip or two along the way.

If you answered “yes” two or more times, consider joining our Winter Boost



Fueling the Growth Semi-Finalists


The Refinery, Uber and the Kauffman Foundation are pleased to announce the 25 semi-finalists from five U.S. cities who will be pitching to investors in the Fueling the Growth with UberPITCH competition on Wednesday, November 16, at the Stamford Innovation Center. The semi-finalists will pitch their businesses from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET to a group of investors, who will then select 10 finalists to pitch again in that evening, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., to split $120,000 in grant awards. All 25 semi-finalists will be showcasing their companies from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., just prior to the finals pitch.   

The semi-finalists were selected out of a field of more than 275 who applied to compete in the investor pitch competition. On October 26, 150 women tech entrepreneurs pitched to investors while taking a fifteeen-minute Uber ride. Thirty investors heard the pitches in five cities, including Providence, New Haven, Stamford, Washington DC and Kansas City. The investors selected the top companies from those rides to be the semi-finalists. 

“Our goal in hosting Fueling the Growth with UberPITCH was to get as many women entrepreneurs, as possible, in one on one meetings with investors to pitch their companies and get feedback” said, Refinery co-founder, Janis Collins.

The 25 semi-finalists competing in Stamford on Nov. 16 are listed below by city:

Kansas City - ConsultUS Technologies, PopBookings, Mobility Designed, Play-it Health

New Haven, CT - My Gene Counsel, Torigen Pharmaceuticals, SepsisDx, RepVisits

Stamford, CT - Curative Orthopaedics, Liquidaty, Scouted, Fairygodboss, FROTH

Washington, D.C. - Wellinks, Electric Feel, The Mentor Method, MoneyComb, Corrie Health, Unbound, RedShred, SameGrain

Providence, RI - Bioarray Genetics, Vitae Industries, Sproutel and BREONICS.

More on The Refinery

The Refinery is an accelerator that fuels the growth of early stage ventures with diverse teams.  In two years, The Refinery has achieved rapid results: 62 companies mentored by 75+ subject expert mentors, through five program cycles, who have raised $10 million+ in funds. Further information can be found on The Refinery’s website.

More on the Kauffman Foundation

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that aims to foster economic independence by advancing educational achievement and entrepreneurial success. Founded by late entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Marion Kauffman, the Foundation is based in Kansas City, Mo., and has approximately $2 billion in assets. For more information, visit our website, and follow the Foundation on Twitter and Facebook.

More on Uber

Uber is a technology platform that is evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers. From our founding in 2009 to our launches in over 400 cities today, Uber’s rapidly expanding global presence continues to bring people and their cities closer.  For more information, visit





Congratulations to the Winners of Our 2016 Grant Awards!

Wellinks, Ellen Su, CEO - 1st Prize - $20,000
HugoPhr, Leslie Krumholz, CEO - 2nd Prize - $15,000
Freedible, Cheryl Viirand, CEO - Audience Award - $2,000

Event Recap
Nearly 200 people showed up to celebrate The Refinery's Two Year Anniversary on April 27th at The Stamford Innovation Center.  It was a fun and inspiring night with 26
Refinery Alumni companies showcasing their impressive progress of the past two years. Partners and sponsors, including A100, AIF, CURE, CVG, Darien Rowatyn Bank, iCoastCT, and The Westport Library, also joined in showcasing their offerings. Delicious food was provided for the evening by cool new startup,Thaithentic, founded by Refinery mentor and core team member, North Shutshiwaran.  
Steve Obsitnik, Imagine Connecticut, who helped in creating The Refinery, provided a call to action for innovation and change.  Exciting 5 minute presentations by the Refinery IV Cohort followed Steve's talk.

Special Guest Fran Pastore, CEO, WBDC, provided statistics on women as economic engines, and Ed Goodwin, President, Angel Investor Forum talked about the excitement of the ever growing Refinery community - "at every event, I meet new people that are joining the ecosystem."

After a lengthy judging discussion, Awards were decided and $37,000 of non-dilutive grants were given out.

The evening concluded with a Special Announcement by Matt McCooe, CEO of Connecticut Innovations. VentureClash, a $5 million global venture challenge was launched!

Tell a friend, Click to Tweet the winners!

Cohosted by The Stamford Innovation Center and Crossroads Venture Group

The Refinery continues to close the funding gap and fuel the growth of companies with diverse teams. 



2016 Winter Advanced Program

The accelerator that fuels the growth of women-led companies is excited to welcome its newest cohort.

The Refinery builds the capabilities of companies with at least one woman in a leadership role, helping these companies scale and raise capital.

The Refinery’s 2016 Winter Advanced Program is three months, starting in February, culminating at the end of April.  Through a personalized curriculum, and structured mentoring, companies develop a growth and funding strategy that is supported by an engaged community of peers, advisors and investors.

The Refinery received more applications than ever before for the program, and through a collaborative screening process selected the highest quality companies for the cohort.   

Strategic relationships and partnerships with organizations that have similar values and missions, such as Connecticut Innovations, Springboard Enterprises, Astia, Canaan Partners and Angel Investor Forum has provided a boost in the quality of applicants.

From 2011–2013, women led companies received only 2.7% of venture capital funding. The Refinery was founded in mid-2014 to fuel the growth of women-led companies and close this funding gap.

In 18 months, The Refinery has achieved rapid results: 26 companies mentored by 70+ subject expert mentors, through three program cycles, raised $7 million+ in funds.

“We are poised to take The Refinery and its impact on companies to the next level by focusing on companies raising Series A funding and launching a business plan competition in the Fall which will draw companies from all over New England and the Mid-Atlantic”, said Jen Gabler, Co-Founder of The Refinery.

The 2016 Winter Advanced Class includes:

Freedible.  Because food is not one-size-fits-all.  A social marketplace for custom eaters, and the bloggers and brands that feed them.

GemShelf.  GemShelf enables teams to manage all their files and web content in one place.

HugoPhr. A personal health information platform for everyone.

Listenable. Digital publishers can offer their readers a pleasant voice narration of their web content with an easy, full-service digital workflow from Listenable.

Wellinks. Wellinks is a wearable medical device company dedicated to making orthotics and prosthetics smarter.