AudioBoo and Fits.me Crowned Winning Pitch-preneurs

Darwinian (flickr: coltmaverick)October 7th 2009, saw the Customer Briefing Centre at Sun Microsystems’ London Bridge Office play host to the third in our series of funding and pitching events.  Entitled: Darwinian Business - Survival of the Fittest, the day started early with a pitching coach session for the Pitch-preneurs, who later on in the evening were to pitch their ventures to 10 investors.

As attendees and investors began to arrive, drenched from the terrible weather, prosecco was poured and the complaints of inclement weather soon turned to Web 2.0 enterprise and the eternal search for funding.

The agenda of events started as it intended to go on.  By drawing comparisons between Darwin’s theory of evolution and the world of business, Simone Brummelhuis was depicted as the dutch cow – the bearer of milk (ideas and innovation), that needs people to make the milk into cheese and butter (team members).  Sadly, however, Stewart Townsends choice to wear a pink jumper to the event, made the well thought through comparison with a silverback gorilla seem somewhat wayward.

Silverback (flickr: Flipped out)
The first of the evening’s keynotes came from Sarah McVittie, founder of texperts, which was sold in December of last year to their largest competitors, known in the UK as 118118.  Sarah’s story of starting a business, surviving without funding, and finally achieving it seems almost textbook – if there is such a thing for start-ups.  For the first year and a half there was only herself and her business partner Thomas Roberts; no money, no salary and no team.  Sounding familiar?
A multitude of factors kept the pair going: ‘calculated risk’ allowed them to understand the problems and put them in control; knowing their business inside out and learning to listen to what each investor told them, good or bad.  Not only did it keep them going, it eventually rewarded them with £2.5 million of Angel funding, just two years after they first started texperts.

The second keynote came from Dutch entrepreneur Karin Loeffen, founder of online booking system, Libersy.  Educated in fiscal economics, leading a company seems a far cry from where she started and yet Karin has enjoyed immense success.  Coming from Holland, Karin travelled to the US to attract investment, and although she claims it to have been an invaluable experience, it is also a path she recommends not to follow unless you intend to be based there.

Evolution (flickr: Colin Purrington)
The context in which Karin used quotes from Darwin needed no explanation: ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.  It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.’ And: ‘In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed’, but the best of all: ‘An American monkey, after getting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again, and thus is much wiser than most men.’

For the nervous pitch-preneurs, the half time refuel of sushi and prosecco, must have seemed little comfort when they had a 45 minute business panel between themselves and centre stage.  A lively panel, which unanimously agreed on every question raised, came before them.  All agreed with Miriam Lahage of Koodos when she said: ‘when you go from a one pizza team to a two pizza team you need to put certain processes in place.’, although as Bindi Karia pointed out: ‘taking too much from large corporates can lead to over-engineering’.  Lois Cook agreed that having come from 16 years with a Japanese company to co-found Angels Den, she would never repeat their 1000 manuals.  Other matters discussed included whether to build a company for growth or with a clear path to profitability and whether founders should also be CEOs.

The Business Panel
For the pitch-preneurs, their time had finally come.  With nine entrepreneurs pitching to the investors, the group were split in half, and attendees allowed to cross between the two rooms.  Panel one saw great pitches from Katie Lips of Little World Gifts, Heikki Haldre of Fits.me, Raquel Dobson of iCreate-Shoes and Karen Espley and Mel Scott-Taylor of Thirty10; whilst panel two had a strong group from Steven Renwick of Affect Labs, Isabelle Regent-Ngwata of Swacle, Egle Karalyte of InfinCubator, Karen Barber of AudioBoo and Lesley Pimm of bethchange.

After a tense deliberation from the investors of each panel, iCreate-Shoes was chosen runner-up of panel 1 and awarded a place on the cmypitch ‘How to Become Investor Ready’ course; whilst Affect Labs was chosen runner up of panel 2 and awarded a mornings consulting with innovation and change agency Entheo.  The winners of each panel – Fits.me and AudioBoo – then went head to head in front of the entire audience to battle it out for the accolade of overall winner.

A Happy Pitch-preneur: Karen Barber
After yet more deliberation, and a hung jury, both Pitch-preneurs were (in an uncharacteristically diplomatic manner) declared winners, with AudioBoo winning the Angels Den business plan upload and Fits.me entry to the Astia Doing it Right Program.
The evening was great fun, but most importantly of all, it facilitated connection between entrepreneurs and investors in a relaxed atmosphere.  All pitch-preneurs gave such good pitches, that a few investors even left with possible investment clearly set in their thoughts.  For The NextWomen, it felt like a job well done.

An Animated Heikki Haldre Pitches

Darwin never said:

‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change'

I believe the quote is from Clarence Darrow.

It was credit to Audio Boo and Fits.me for arriving where they did, they had strong challenge. I especially liked Affect Labs and was assured by Stephen afterwards that it could deal with irony. I guess that's how we know it's not an American software!

Thanks for putting together a great panel and evening Simone and all and best luck to all the pitchers.

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