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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