For up-and-coming entrepreneurs, perhaps the most important make-or-break moment is the one when they have the opportunity to pitch their business to investors capable of catapulting their promising ideas into entirely new territory.
More than a dozen entrepreneurs with Northeastern ties had that opportunity on Wednesday evening at the biannual Pitch-a-thon. The event was organized by IDEA, the university’s student-run venture accelerator, and held at the MassChallenge headquarters in the Innovation District of Boston’s waterfront. But rather than speaking to just one potential investor, representatives of each of 18 ventures were given five minutes before an audience of 150, many of them venture capitalists or angel investors looking for the next business to fund or mentor.
“Why are we here?” asked Northeastern senior Phoebe Farber at the end of her pitch for CareerApp, a web platform that connects job candidates with employers. “We’re here because we’re fundraising.”
CareerApp, like each of the featured ventures, has already achieved some success. But in order to grow, it needs money.
“We’ve proven our concept and we’re ready to grow,” Farber told investors.
IDEA offers a range of resources and services to startups, and it hosts Pitch-a-thon twice a year to showcase the student, alumni, and faculty-run ventures it supports. Four ventures in IDEA—3-Spark, 88 Acres, Quad Technologies, and Plexx—are also finalists in this summer’s MassChallenge competition, which provides mentoring and space to more than 100 ventures from around the globe.
“I’m amazingly impressed with the program at Northeastern,” said Scott Bailey, the MassChallenge director of partnerships. “The power of the student body is something no one should underestimate.”
The burgeoning entrepreneurs prepped diligently for the Pitch-a-thon, working with IDEA coaches and mentors to craft the perfect presentation, one that introduced their business, highlighted what made it unique, and explained how an investor could help it grow and develop.
While the ventures presenting at Pitch-a-thon represented a range of categories—from high-tech biosensors and cutting-edge 3-D printers to mobile apps for the restaurant industry and a web platform to plan group outings—each addressed a real-world problem and had a fully-established business plan.
Take LeanWagon, a fledgling venture that this year has already grown from two employees to a staff of 10. The company aims to help small and medium-sized companies deploy incentive-based programs to help their employees lose weight and become healthier, delivering the kind of savings in healthcare and other costs that large corporations like CVS and Safeway have been able to achieve through programs of their own. But those incentive-based programs, while very successful, are difficult to implement on a smaller scale since they require partnerships with a range of companies, from food providers to gyms.
“Most small and mid-sized companies don’t have the resources to run those programs on their own,” said co-founder Dustin Haines. “That’s where LeanWagon comes in.”
The formal event eventually turned into a networking session, with potential investors and mentors meeting one-on-one with the young entrepreneurs. Northeastern entrepreneur-in-residence Bob Lentz and IDEA adviser Dan Gregory, along with other faculty from the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, were on hand help the hopeful entrepreneurs make connections and schedule meetings for more information.
“It was an important showing for our capital-seeking ventures because it maximizes their exposure to angel and VC investors and offers the audience an array of investment opportunities across different industries,” said IDEA CEO Max Kaye. “I was impressed with the quality of the pitches, the level of salesmanship, showmanship and professionalism all our ventures brought to the table.”