Women making pitches: 7 entrepreneurs seek $20,000 for their companies

MIDDLEBURY — In 2017, Change the Story Vermont, a publicly funded initiative to improve women’s economic status in Vermont, reported that just 8 percent of the state’s highest-grossing companies were led by women. This fall, the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET) is launching a new program it hopes will help change that statistic.
The centerpiece of that program will take place next Thursday, Sept. 27, when VCET and Middlebury College will host a new event called The Female Founders StartHere Challenge.
At the event, founder of seven women-initiated startup companies based in Vermont will pitch their businesses to a panel of three judges in hopes of receiving a $20,000 cash prize to further their venture. The finalists will be judged according to the opportunity that exists for their business, the strength of their team and their pitch for how they intend to use the prize money if they win.
The runner-up will win a $5,000 cash prize.
The judging panel is comprised of three successful Vermont entrepreneurs. Hinda Miller is the co-founder of Jogbra Inc., the company that invented the sports bra in 1977, and founder of Deforest Concepts, a Burlington consulting firm that specializes in executive coaching and leadership training for women. Mary Cullinane is also a judge and serves as a partner at the Middlebury-based consulting firm Community Barn Ventures, which supports local businesses by providing technological and business planning support. Middlebury College alumna Lucie Ide, founder of Rimidi, will also be a judge. Rimidi is an information technology company that helps doctors and patients manage diabetes.
The seven finalists were selected from a pool of 44 applicants. To be eligible, businesses have to be at least one-third women-owned, have made no more than $750,000 in pre-revenue from sales over the last 12 months and have received no more than $500,000 in outside investments from people other than the founder themselves or from family capital. Additionally, at least 50 percent of a company’s team has to be residents of Vermont or students enrolled at a Vermont college or university.
According to Sam Roach-Gerber, director of innovation at VCET, the competition was fierce to make it into the final round.
“There were many, many applicants that would have been an incredible addition to our finalists … and we know they will be successful no matter what and hope and anticipate that those folks will attend and be part of the networking event before and after,” he said.
On Sept. 27, each team will have eight minutes to present their pitch, followed by five minutes of question and answer from the panel of judges.
The $25,000 in prize money was donated by a combination of individual donors and the event’s sponsors.
In addition to sponsors Middlebury College, Vermont Community Foundation, Hotel Vermont, The Vermont Women’s Fund and Vermont Technology Council, an anonymous entrepreneur donated an undisclosed amount towards the program’s funding.
The finalists range from building manufacturers to jewelers and clothing design start-ups. They are:
•  Wheel Pad, a Southern Vermont company founded by Julie Lineberger that manufactures temporary handicapped-accessible bedroom and bathroom units that attach to an existing home. The units are designed to be chic, affordable temporary dwellings that facilitate greater independence for people with either temporary or permanent mobility issues.
•  Courtney Reckord Jewelry, founded by a South Burlington jeweler and artist who creates jewelry from metal renderings of geographically accurate topographic maps that depict mountains in New York’s Adirondacks, Vermont’s Green Mountains and New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
•  Cora Ball, founded by Granville resident Rachael Miller. Cora Balls are specially designed laundry balls that catch microfibers as they are shed from clothes in the washing machine. The idea is to keep microfibers, which often contain plastic, from going down the drain and polluting Vermont’s waterways.
•  Middlebury start-up Overeasy, a ski clothing and manufacturing company based in Vermont whose HoodE’s are over-the-helmet hoods for skiers designed to keep athletes warm on the coldest of winter days. It was launched by current Middlebury College students Eva Shaw and Meg Collins.
•  Visura, a website-building and networking tool for digital artists and professionals. The company helps artists, especially photographers, create and share online portfolios, among other services.
•  Pictal Health, founded by designer Katie McCurdy, who has developed a system for generating visual records of patients’ healthcare history for them to present to new doctors. The visual records are particularly geared toward people who suffer from frequently mis-diagnosed chronic illnesses, and the method was borne out of McCurdy’s own experiences navigating treatment for and autoimmune illness.
•  The CBD (hemp/cannabis) extraction and production company Elmore Mountain Therapeutics. Founded in 2017 by Ashley Reynolds of Randolph, the company uses CO2 extraction of Vermont-grown hemp to create a “whole plant CBD balm” along with a tincture.
Roach-Gerber hopes the event will be as beneficial to attendees as to finalists.
“The things I’m really excited for are making introductions and chatting with people before and after,” she said. She anticipates that prospective investors will be in attendance and that the event will be a great place for start-ups who did not make the final round to network and gain support.
“It’s our goal to create a networking opportunity,” Roach-Gerber said. “At the end of the day it is so important to get out there and be face to face with folks. We hope these founders and aspiring entrepreneurs can meet someone they never would have met if they didn’t go to this event. That’s where the magic happens.”
The Female Founders StartHere Challenge will be held on Sept. 27, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Middlebury College’s Wilson Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

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