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Stacy Flynn of Evrnu took home a $140,000 investment, the top prize for a for-profit. Photo from SVP via Gary Voth.
Stacy Flynn of Evrnu wins a $140,000 investment, top prize at the Fast Pitch forum. Photo from SVP via Gary Voth.

Social Venture Partners held its 4th annual Fast Pitch Final Showdown at McCaw Hall in Seattle last night, awarding nearly $300,000 in cash prizes to entrepreneurs who are trying to make the world a better place.

More than 800 people attended the event, with the 14 Fast Pitch finalists presenting 5-minute presentations to a panel of esteemed judges that included former Fisher Communications CEO and American Apparel board member Colleen Brown; University of Washington provost Ana Mari Cauce; and Sandra Cavanaugh, CEO of Private Client Services at Russell Investments.

Companies were judged on societal impact, innovation, sustainability, leadership team, and clarity of concept.

The 14 finalists were organized into four programs: student-led ventures, startup nonprofits, established nonprofits and for-profits. Here’s a look at winners from each group, with reactions from the entrepreneurs.

Student-led ventures (high school) 1st Place: Dyslexi-type

Prize: $1,500, plus a $10,000 Microsoft Award Technology for Good.

Presenter: CEO and founder Eli Weed

Inspired by his cousin Emily and seeing how Dyslexia impacted her schooling, Weed came up with the idea of Dyslexia Type, a learn-to-type program that uses a font specially designed for dyslexic readers.

GeekWire: How did it feel to win?

Weed: “Since the Fast Pitch began, its been a lot of work and winning was just an amazing feeling. I did not expect to be able to win, actually.”

GeekWire: What advice do you have for future Fast Pitch Showdown participants?

Weed: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

GeekWire: What’s next for you and your project?

Weed: “I am going to try to help use this money to finish the dyslexic site and hopefully publish it as a website. Also, I want to have existing Dyslexia organizations sponsor it so it can stay up there free for anybody to use.”

Student-led ventures (university) First Place: Scholarship Junkies

svp11-Photo cutline 2  (2)Prize: $4,000

Presenter: President and CEO David Coven

Founded by a group of University of Washington undergraduates, this organization looks to combat the steady rise of college tuition costs and national student debt by providing students with mentorship and training to help them seek out and eventually win scholarships. They also want to develop a platform that connects students directly with donors in a way similar to Kickstarter, giving students much more accountability and control over their scholarships.

GeekWire: How did it feel to come in first place? 

Coven: “Oh my goodness — it feels exhausting, actually. I mean, I have eaten three grapes this entire day, but ultimately it feels rewarding because of all of the people who spent so much time investing in me and now I have tangible results. It was worth it.”

GeekWire: If you had one word of advice to give to next year’s Fast Pitch participants, what would it be?

Coven: “Prepare, prepare, prepare, and practice. Don’t be afraid of failure. Make sure you ask for help — that’s the biggest thing.”

GeekWire: What’s Next for you and your organization?

Coven: “We want to build Scholarship Junkies into a national presence and a household name, and really make a difference in the lives of students everywhere.”

Startup non-profit first place: Tiny Trees

Prize: $15,000

Presenter: Founder Andrew Jay

Andrew Jay
Andrew Jay

Born out of the ridiculous reality that the cost of pre-school education can range from $12,000 to $19,000 a year, Tiny Trees believes that those high costs result from facility and building costs. To get around that issue, Tiny Trees proposes to have pre-school classes in city parks. The idea was inspired by programs in Norway and Switzerland, which have successfully created outdoor pre-schools.

GeekWire: How does feel to come in first place?

Jay: “It was an amazing feeling, a vote of confidence.”

GeekWire: If you had one word of advice to give to next year’s Fast Pitch participants what would it be?

Jay: “It’s all about relationships and story. Talk to as many people as you can and find your perfect story.”

GeekWire: What’s next for you and your organization?

Jay: “We are launching in 2016. We are looking to build six preschools.”

Established non-profit first place: Unleash The Brilliance

Prize: $20,000

Presenter: Terrell Dorsey

Unleash The Brillianceunleashthebrilliance is inspired by the reality of issues that youth face such as truancy, negative peer pressure, and abusive behavior. It hopes to support youth through positive peer influence and adult leadership.

GeekWire: How does it feel to win first place prize?

Dorsey: “It’s kind of unbelievable. We didn’t come here to really think about the money. We came here to share a story that impacts an audience. We truly wanted to have a ripple effect across the state of Washington and to get there, we have to be passionate about the value proposition.”

GeekWire: What is your advice for next year’s Fast Pitch participants?

Dorsey: “The best thing to do is to practice — to find an hour or two a day and get in focus. Pretend you’re in college. Hibernate.”

GeekWire: What’s next for you and Unleash the Brilliance?

Dorsey: “It’s the development of a new innovation that takes the magic of Unleash the Brilliance and turns it into a replicable science. We help kids to think about the consequences of their actions so they can prepare for take-off and know they will be grounded for life.”

For-profit first place: Evrnu

Prize: $140,000, plus $3,500 Audience Choice Award.

Presenter: CEO and founder Stacy Flynn

evrnu

Evrnu takes discarded cotton garments and turns them into new bio-based fiber. This allows apparel brands to recycle what they already sell and turn what most consider garbage into a new high-quality garment.

GeekWire: How does it feel to come in first place?

Flynn: “It feels awesome. Winning is incredible. We are ready and we demonstrated it tonight and I feel so good about that. “

GeekWire: What is your advice for next year’s Fast Pitch participants?

Flynn: “When you take on the role of a social entrepreneur, you are working on behalf of something greater than yourself. And one of the hardest things to get over is the fear of not being able to go the distance.”

Click here to see the full list of winners from the 4th annual SVP Fast Pitch Showdown.

Austin Williams is a student at the University of Washington, contributing this piece on behalf of the News Lab program. 

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