Recycled threads, dyslexia software, affordable pre-school, bees, loans, stem cells, you name it. Local entrepreneurs pitched their wares at Seattle Venture Partners’ annual event.
By Tamara Power-Drutis
One of my favorite pastimes is scanning the projects on Kickstarter or IndiGogo, getting a taste for the next wave of disruptive technologies designed to revolutionize my morning latte, backpacking omelets or personal posture. Perhaps that’s why attending last week’s Seattle Venture Partners’ annual Fast Pitch Finals at McCaw Hall felt to me like shopping for the next companies that will revolutionize our community.
Contestants pitch their ideas — live, on-stage before a panel of judges — in hopes of landing a piece of the $250,000 in grant and investments on the table.
Past winners — such as Community Sourced Capital with its zero interest community-sourced business loans, and Scope 5’s web-based software for helping organizations improve sustainability efforts — are actually changing the way Northwesterners interact with, and improve, our neighborhoods.
This year’s SVP Fast Pitch panel, made up of business and non-profit leaders such as Mona Locke, Tony Mestres, Martha Choe and Ana Mari Cauce, had the difficult task of selecting the best ideas based on their “societal impact, innovation, sustainability, leadership team, and clarity of concept.” With 14 start-ups and 18 awards, you might expect this to be a game where everyone wins. However, some crowd and judge favorites (Pay It Forward, Evrnu, Dyslexi-type) took home awards in multiple categories. You can check out the complete list of 2014 Fast Pitch winners on the Social Venture Partner’s site.
But here are the gold medalists — and a few of my personal favorites. If I browsing a crowd-funding site, they’d have me opening my wallet:
This is a new technology that recycles clothing, extracting premium, renewable fibers (like cotton) which are then used to make more clothes. Before Evrnu, some 12 million tons of old clothes would wind up in U.S. landfills each year. Now, Evrnu rescues and deconstructs these old garments. And that’s why Stacy Flynn (below), Evrnu CEO and co-founder, went home with three different awards: First Place in the Investment Fund For-Profit category ($140,000), the Audience Choice Award ($3,500) and the Grow50 Award ($120,000 in consulting time). Evrnu is working in partnership with Goodwill and Eileen Fisher. If you want to get your hands on an Evrnu t-shirt before the technology pricetags on its clothes hit high-fashion levels, then help chip away at the $17,271 left to raise in the company’s IndiGoGo campaign.
First Place winners in the Established Nonprofit category ($20,000), this program uses peer pressure for good by training student leaders to combat truancy and bullying and make positive life choices.
The First Place winner in the Startup Nonprofit category ($15,000). For all those NW parents tirelessly hunting for a preschool that they can actually get their child into and that won’t bankrupt the family, Tiny Trees offers a welcome and timely solution. Bundle your toddler up this winter and send him or her into the great outdoors — for just $7,000 a year. Mom and Dad can invest the $15,000 or so they’ll save in junior’s college fund.
And speaking of college . . .
First Place in the University Venture category ($4,000). Student debt was a dominant theme at this year’s SVP Fast Pitch, and Scholarship Junkies mentorship and “Scholarshipping” program resonated. The program coaches students through the scholarship application process. It also connects students who need scholarship money with donors who are willing and able to provide it.
First Place in the High School Venture category ($1,500) and winner of the Microsoft Award Technology for Good ($10,000). High schooler Eli Weed (at left) is a future CEO. His not-for-profit Dyslexi-type is a learn-to-type software program that helps dyslexic kids focus on what they want to communicate rather than on the mechanics of writing.
Now, on to some of my favorites of the evening:
You may not like bees buzzing around your picnic table, but let’s face it, you need them to put food on it. Hardworking honeybees pollinate 83 percernt of all flowering plants, and we’ve lost 60 percent of U.S. colonies since 1946, according to The Common Acre Executive Director Bob Redmond. To help reverse this trend, Common Acre has launched a five-year initiative to plant hundreds of acres of pollinator habitat, so expect more bees around Sea-Tac Airport, Seattle City Light power lines and Boeing’s Auburn campus.
“Bills are constant, but incomes vary,” said Keith Armstrong, Co-Cofounder of Lendr, which provides personal loans with repayment plans based on the borrower’s actual income. Armstrong noted that payday lenders made 871,801 loans (for $331,430,078) in Washington State last year, and 60 percent of the borrowers took out three or more loans in that time. Payday loans often set borrowers up for failure with repayment terms they can’t afford. With Lendr, borrowers apply via text message, pay at a rate that fits their income (no more than five percent of their net incole per pay period) and build credit by reporting their payment history to credit bureaus, something payday lenders don’t do. And borrowers get credit for referrals.
I didn’t pay close enough attention in my high school science classes, but I still understood enough of Alex Jiao’s pitch for miPS Bank to know that storing my stem cells while I’m young so that when something internal fails down the line they can regenerate any organ I need is a smart idea. So smart that this technology won the Nobel Prize in Medicine back in 2012. Mark your calendars for 2015 whenmiPS’ first facility plans to go live in Seattle.
Other organizations you should keep your eye on: The SEED Collaborative’s portable living classroom, Bike Work’s Job Skills Training program, which teaches essential job skills to at-risk youth, and Allumiaremoving up-front costs for lighting efficiency upgrades.
Photos courtesy of Evan McGlinn.