Could you deliver a winning pitch for your dream business venture in less than five minutes? Ten up-and-coming startups from three different countries did just that during TechCrunch’s Early Stage Pitch-Off event on July 9.
Back in May, TechCrunch put out the call for early-stage, pre-Series A tech companies with limited press to participate in its second Early Stage Pitch-Off event. A diverse group of 10 finalists from Austria, Brazil, and the U.S. were selected to deliver their best pitches in front of a live, virtual audience of potential investors, journalists, and hundreds of conference attendees during the second day of the media outlet’s sold-out, two-day bootcamp for startup founders.
Teams were given just five minutes to make their pitch followed by a five-minute Q&A with a panel of expert VC judges including Primary Venture Partners’ Ben Sun, Fuel Capital’s Leah Solivan and Index Ventures’ Shardul Shah.
Finalists received personalized communications training and coaching sessions with the TechCrunch Startup Battlefield team prior to the event, and their pitches did not disappoint. All 10 of the startup founders dished out a rapid-fire smorgasboard of new tools and applications inspired by intriguing business propositions in fast-growth market sectors with significant investor returns potential.
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Taking the virtual stage first was foodtech startup Mi Terro, which is on a mission to rescue food and agricultural waste from landfills and turn it into biodegradable materials for use in clothing, packaging, and other applications. The eco-friendly startup has already partnered with Anheuser Busch to turn spent grain from the brewing process into plant-based packaging and biofilms, and it is experimenting with transforming expired milk into milk-based fibers to produce T-shirts, undergarments and masks.
The Early Stage audience and judges got a peek at two new consumer-facing apps: Press Sports App showcased its new vertical social media platform for student athletes to share “snackable sports highlights” with coaches, scouts, and fans; and Speeko delivered quite a compelling case for its AI-powered speech-coaching app designed to improve public-speaking confidence and prowess with just five minutes of daily practice.
In the realm of personal finance, Snowball Wealth showed off its debt reduction and financial empowerment platform aimed at attracting and serving first-generation wealth builders and women in particular, who hold a disproportionate amount of student loan debt. The startup has already saved its users more than $500,000 in interest fees alone.
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Based in Vienna, Austria, the CEO and founder of My Expat Taxes impressed the judges with a system built from the ground up to simplify the process of filing U.S. taxes while working abroad. The service works directly with the Internal Revenue Service, slashing the typical time it takes to file from three months to just 15 minutes and at roughly one-third the cost (USD $180 on average) of other accounting options.
Technology is finally reshaping the safety, efficiency, and risks associated with large-scale and lucrative construction projects. Universal Prequal’s goal is to become a national resource for pre-qualifying contractors and subcontractors within the commercial construction industry, a laggard in adapting modern technologies. The subscription-based service allows contractors to prequalify their services once per year, while clients can search for and vet potential partners based on specific credentials and other custom criteria. This new approach avoids time-consuming paperwork and other pitfalls of what’s still a largely “handshake culture” in the construction industry.
Another startup contender, T2D2.ai, takes aim at the other end of the construction industry: legacy infrastructure inspection systems that are ineffective and leave existing buildings, bridges, and other commercial structures vulnerable, which can lead to tragic consequences. The startup uses AI and drone-based computer vision to conduct ongoing “structural forensic” monitoring and deliver detailed recommendations to its subscribers, allowing them to prioritize repairs on areas of the most concern.
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Have you ever bought something you used once or twice, and now it’s just taking up space in your garage or closet? Sao Paulo-based Boomerang wants to change that outdated model with an online rental marketplace it launched in Brazil during the pandemic. The startup uses a B2B2C model, partnering with local retailers to deliver power tools, cleaning equipment, fitness gear, baby strollers, camping equipment, and even board games to its users within 24 hours of them making a request.
The pitch-off ended with standout presentations from two more startups: Stash Global and Vyrill, which were LABS’ two top picks as we eagerly awaited the judges’ decision.
Stash Global attacks the global ransomware crisis with its “no ransom ransomware” solution. Unlike most cybersecurity solutions that focus almost exclusively on defending against hackers, Stash Global uses a data-first approach that protects the data itself from exploitation by encrypting and archiving it within customers’ existing systems. By doing so, its customers are able to bypass ransom demands and restore data with one click in the event of an actual breach; foiling hackers and getting businesses back to work without spending a dime in ransom. Stash Global was recently honored with an award for “Most Innovative Ransom-less Ransomware Recovery Solution” at the 2021 RSA conference.
Spoiler Alert: The Winning Pitch!
If you’ve ever watched an unboxing video or a product review on YouTube before buying something, you understand how important authentic, fan-created content can be to influencing purchase behavior — and big brands want a piece of that action. But keeping up with social media influencers and the volume of content they create has been virtually impossible until recently when AI changed the game.
Enter Vyrill: an innovative AI-driven, in-video search and content-marketing platform aimed at finding and harnessing the best, well, viral content to support social commerce and brand marketing. The company has already captured, ranked, rated, and analyzed more than 250,000 creator profiles and more than three million videos to help its clients identify key influencers, leverage top user-generated content, conduct competitive research and more.
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Vyrill’s search function currently integrates with YouTube, Dropbox, and Shopify. The online service uses a “freemium” model that lets any brand or retailer sign up and test the platform for 14 days at no cost. From there, users can upgrade to a paid version of the product. The company has already attracted several big-name clients including Porsche, Revlon, and Sargento.
Two Founders’ Experiences and Key Takeaways
“It was an incredible opportunity [for Boomerang] to be on the TechCrunch stage. Right now, people are congratulating us just for having participated. And other [founders] are also looking at us like, ‘Well, if Boomerang did that, it’s possible,” said Nathan Romeiro, co-founder of Boomerang.
“As a Brazilian company, we knew it was a long shot to be selected, but we needed to try because we knew it would create worldwide visibility for us, even though we’re in the Latin American space. Any exposure you can get in a well-known media vehicle like TechCrunch is good for you, because [potential investors] may say: ‘Well, it’s a Latin American company, but they were on stage at TechCrunch, so it’s a serious company, and I want to know them.’”
Ajay Bam, CEO of Vyrill, was motivated to participate in the TechCrunch Early Stage Pitch-off by three key objectives: fundraising, connecting with future customers, and sourcing top talent for his growing team. Within minutes of Vyrill being announced as the winner, Bam began receiving emails from potential partners and investors to help close the $800,000 gap in the company’s current $2 million seed round.
“It’s funny how things happen, right? We won and, 10 minutes later, I got emails from three investors saying, ‘We’re in.’ That’s the magic of TechCrunch,” said Bam.
Romeiro, Stehling, and Bam all agree that the time spent honing their pitch and appearing on stage was well worth it to build credibility with future investors, in addition to smaller companies and big corporations looking for exciting new startups to partner with during the event.
“We’re in talks right now with some strategic partners — big companies that can help scale us and resell our product. For these strategic partners to see an endorsement from TechCrunch is huge. This will also help us with lead generation and attracting top talent. It’s a huge win on all fronts,” said Bam.
“By doing a five-minute presentation, we were able to get four very esteemed judges to say that the market needs what Vyrill is working on, and it has the talent to solve this problem,” said Bam.