It was only a few steps up onto the stage at the GeekWire Summit, but Seattle-area entrepreneurs still reached great heights on Tuesday — just like they did during this season of GeekWire’s Elevator Pitch series. And one pitch eventually rose above the rest, as a panel of judges crowned our first champion.
Jonathan Kumar, CEO of Samaritan, was named the GeekWire Elevator Pitch champ after rapidly pitching his app that helps unsheltered people with a cashless, effective giving solution.
During the season, GeekWire’s video series featured 27 entrepreneurs pitching their business concepts in 48 seconds — the time it took for contestants to ride in an elevator to the top of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle or Smith Tower.
Kumar was the winner during episode 8, and eight of nine finalists made it back to the Summit to pitch again on Tuesday.
The final competition was judged by T.A. McCann, managing director at Pioneer Square Labs; Heather Redman, managing director of Flying Fish Partners; Chris Blessington, marketing VP at Smartsheet; and Richard Tait, entrepreneur-in-residence at Starbucks.
“The attention that you have guys have given to a space that’s not traditionally addressed by social enterprise companies … I’m shocked,” Kumar said after being named the winner. “I really appreciate your insight.”
Homelessness is also the focus of the fourth annual Geeks Give Back campaign, which launched Tuesday at the Summit. GeekWire is teaming up with Bank of America and the Seattle Foundation to raise funds for five organizations supporting homeless families and individuals in the Seattle region. Check the campaign’s website for more details and to donate.
Kumar’s prize package included a suite of services from Smartsheet, sponsors of the Elevator Pitch. The company also offered up either a year of office space at WeWork or office swag, such as a foosball or ping pong table. Kumar also took home an inflated unicorn as a symbol of the high hopes for Samaritan.
“These infrastructure businesses are such great ways to make a huge difference in the world, but also make money,” judge Heather Redman said. “Her business is absolutely essential.”
Rothman received two Rum Card memberships with unlimited access to the observatory of the Smith Tower.
The third place prize went to Kwame Boler, CEO of Neu, the marketplace connecting Airbnb hosts with hotel-grade cleaners. Boler’s pitch in front of the Summit crowd also earned him the Geek’s Choice award.
“I love the adjacency to a very fast growing market,” judge Richard Tait said. And judge T.A. McCann called Boler “measured and calm” and said he had confidence in him running the business.
Boler accepted a special prize package from the Space Needle, where he originally pitched.
The other five entrepreneurs who pitched at the Summit included:
- Episode 2 winner Samir Manjure, CEO of KenSci, a machine learning platform that’s looking to fight death with data science.
- Episode 5: winner Cassie Wallender, CEO of Invio, remote and automated clinical trial data quality monitoring.
- Episode 6: winner Dan Greenshields, CEO of JetClosing, a technology-enabled title and escrow company.
- Episode 7: winner Boaz Ashkenazy, CEO of Simply Augmented, an AR platform that improves the effectiveness of enterprise sales reps as they sell physical products.
- Episode 9: winner Slava Agafonov, CEO of Energsoft, predictive data analytics for batteries
The judges praised all of the entrepreneurs for the tough task of boiling down their concepts to a short, pressure-packed pitch.
Their advice ranged from having clarity and consistency in their pitches and conveying an understanding of all aspects of the business in a very short time to having a passion for the business and believing in the idea.
“At the end of the day the business has to matter,” Redman said. “It has to move the needle in a meaningful way.”
Invio’s Wallender may have learned plenty about honing her company message. She also discovered something else.
“It gave me a new fear of elevators, a phobia I didn’t have previously,” Wallender said.