Entrepreneurs weren’t turning down $30 million investments, and ABC wasn’t on hand broadcasting the action to millions around the world. But on Thursday evening at the Palace Ballroom, Seattleites had a chance to experience their own version of the popular show “Shark Tank.”
Seated directly in front of the stage were a mix of six investors and judges — the “Lions” — that offered critique and had a chance to invest in the companies if they so pleased. The “Lions” included Isilon co-founder Sujal Patel, Madrona Venture Group’s Julie Sandler, Hotel Andra owner Craig Schafer, GeekWire co-founder John Cook, Founders’ Co-op General Partner Chris DeVore, and Fledge Managing Director Luni Libes.
The set-up made for an entertaining evening, full of passionate entrepreneurs, engaged audience members — who could also invest — and a few offers from the Lions. No deals were made on stage, but the CEOs had a chance to mingle with the investors after the pitches.
Of course, given that Douglas was on hand, there was also some tasty Farro salad available for everyone.
“How many VC forums have a Farro salad?” Douglas joked afterward. “I think you can expect another Lion’s Den in the future. It went well enough to try it again.”
“We wanted to make it fun and interactive,” Andrews added. “I’ve been to plenty of pitch exhibits that are snoozers. We hoped that people got a little inspired before they walked out the door.”
We live-blogged the action from Thursday night, and you can check that out here. Here’s a rundown of the six startups that pitched:
Garmentory was up first, with new CEO John Scrofano — who formerly headed up OneWed — pitching on stage. Garmentory acts as a marketplace for brick-and-mortar boutique shops around the world who want to reach buyers online. The company was in the most recent Techstars Seattle class and has seen its sales double every quarter for the past year.
Up next was Andrew Fawcett, CEO of Seatout. The new startup has developed a reservation management system for restaurants that want to improve their no-show rates. Fawcett noted how restaurants spend way too much with OpenTable, the big beast in the restaurant reservation industry, and said Seatout offered similar features but with a lower price tag.
Grass & Root Juice Co.
This was probably my favorite pitch. Sara Johnson, who works at Redfin during the day, is CEO and founder of Grass & Root Juice Co. “Seattle’s first and only juice truck is here to take the city by storm,” she said on stage. Johnson said she’s trying to tap into the $2 billion juicing industry by selling her homemade juices from a mobile truck. Craig Schafer, a hotel owner and one of the “Lions,” offered Johnson an investment deal, but she wanted more time to decide before committing.
This pitch generated the most discussion between the Lions and even more so with the audience, as issues of genders and sexual orientation arose. “We curate and create clothing accessories for tomboys,” TOMBOYx CEO Fran Dunaway said on stage. Dunaway noted how her company is already averaging 50 percent margins and wants to hit $10 million in yearly revenue by 2017. Douglas said that this was his favorite pitch. “I really see a market,” he said. “Everybody knows tomboys — you instantly know the style and feeling.”
Perhaps the most accomplished of the startups that pitched, Stockbox is building small urban grocery stories that “are the hub for fresh food, community connections, engaging experiences, and innovation in grocery.” CEO Carrie Ferrence noted that annual sales from the company’s First Hill store are on pace to hit $2.3 million, with a profit margin of 10 percent. She added that her prices are on par with QFC.
To cap off the night, CEO Stacy Flynn explained Evrnu’s mission to take old cotton garment waste and convert it into premium fiber that’s used by clothing companies to make new textiles. “We have developed a revolutionary new technology to recycle the $350 billion worth of cotton apparel we throw away every year in the U.S.,” Flynn said. Madrona Venture Group’s Julie Sandler, who helped judge the pitches, said she was most impressed by Evrnu. The startup is already in conversations with giants like Nike to help them become more sustainable.