(Bloomberg) -- Coming off the heels of New York Fashion Week, US designer Rebecca Minkoff has been stepping up her efforts to give back to the startup community. On Sept. 21, her Female Founder Collective (FFC), in partnership with Webex by Cisco, hosted “The Pitch,” a live-streamed event in which six eager entrepreneurs competed for a $20,000 grant to kickstart their business.
As in an episode of Shark Tank, the founders were given a set amount of time to pitch their company to the judging panel, which included Minkoff; Erica Duignan Minnihan, a partner with Reign Ventures; and Aruna Ravichandran, chief marketing officer of Webex by Cisco and sponsor of the $20,000 grant. About 160 people tuned in to the virtual event, cheering on the women in chat as they talked about the problems they were solving, the size of their total addressable markets, and what differentiates them from the competition.
After each presentation, the judges scored the pitch and then tallied them all up during a final deliberation. The winner was Chantel Powell of Play Pits, a maker of kid-friendly deodorant sold at Target and on Amazon.com. The company was founded in 2018 and achieved a milestone of $1 million in sales in 2021, according to Powell, a figure that impressed the judges. After tearing up when awarded the prize, she said the $20,000 grant would help the company recover from a devastating fire that destroyed its headquarters last week.
A second prize of $10,000 from FFC was awarded to runner-up Tania Kottoor of WestxEast. She and co-founder Liya Thachil developed an AI-powered app that custom-fits brides and grooms in South Asian wedding apparel, as well as for other occasions. With wedding season commencing in October and running into December in the South Asia region, WestxEast has thousands of customers waitlisted, Kottoor said during her pitch session. “The money is going to go towards purchasing our first laser-cutting machine to achieve a one-week delivery time.”
Although a grant of $20,000 might not seem like much compared to the millions of dollars Silicon Valley startups get, it can be a lifeline when you’re just starting out, Minkoff says. “We recently gave a grant to a founder that enabled her to secure production when she was having supply chain issues, and she was able to get her goods turned around faster and her business grew healthier than her competitors.”
In recent years, Minkoff has become more involved in mentoring startups, and in August announced North, a platform to help founders get coaching on preparing decks, meeting investors, and navigating the challenges of building a business.
The women were selected from applications submitted online. The four other finalists were Sara Shah of Journ, which makes beauty products for women of color; Gwenn Nolan of Mother Compost, a subscription service that collects food scraps and returns them as fertilizer for a garden; Tina McCord of Zuni Learning Tree, an educational platform; and Kate Giovambattista of Beyond Main, a marketplace of local merchants.
Minkoff says she co-created “The Pitch” because she wanted to shine a light on the innovation taking place in the female founder community that has been consistently ignored by traditional venture capital. According to PitchBook, women get only 2% of venture funding in the US, a figure that has remained low since 2008, when the research firm began tracking it.
That funding disparity was cited by tennis great Serena Williams during a recent Bloomberg interview in which she said she is being trying to help create more opportunities for underrepresented groups via her investment arm, Serena Ventures.
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