Empower Female Entrepreneurs at the 2018 WIE ILC Startup Pitch Competition
By Joseph Wei, Chair, IEEE CE Society, SCV & Wenbo Yin, Chair, IEEE YP, SCV
Startup Pitch Competition at WIE ILC
Women-in-Engineering International Leadership Conference (WIE ILC) is IEEE’s premier conference dedicated to help female professionals to succeed in STEM. It caters to a broad audience of professionals in academia, industry, and government. One of the highlight’s of this year’s Conference is the WIE ILC Startup Pitch Competition, with the goal to inspire, assist and engage female entrepreneurs and help them succeed in the startup environment.
The 2018 WIE ILC Startup Pitch Competition attracted 12 startups by female entrepreneurs. Prior to the event, the entrepreneurs had the opportunity to polish their pitch decks assisted by a group of VCs, corporate executives and startup coaches. During the Pitch Competition, the entrepreneurs presented to a panel of 8 VCs and executives. The event attracted more than 100 attendees and was very well received.
Planning and Execution
The Pitch Competition is organized by IEEE Santa Clara Valley Consumer Electronics (CE) Society and Young Professionals (YP) Affiliate Group. This project is led by a team that has expertise in the organizing similar events and has experience in the startup community. The team includes Joseph Wei, Caroline Nguyen, Wenbo Yin and Selvam Raju.
The organizing team identified that difficulty in fund-raising as a key obstacle for many first time female entrepreneurs. This can stem from different reasons, including stereotypes by the male-dominated VC firms, lack of female role-models, or restive policies [1-2]. To address this issue, the organizers created a startup coaching session led by VCs, corporate executives and professional startup coaches. This not only gave entrepreneurs an opportunity to polish their pitch decks and practice their presentations, but also the opportunity to foster a mentorship-like bond with the startup community leaders.
Helping Female Entrepreneurs to Succeed
The actual pitch competition is about 1.5 hours long, with each startup presenting to a panel of judges for 5 minutes, followed by Q&A. The organizers assembled a panel of VCs, entrepreneurs and executives that span across different industries. Since this is a female entrepreneur-tailed event, the judging panel consists of roughly half female members. This allows for different perspectives and insights to be brought to the event.
In addition to the pitch competition itself, Jillian Manus gave a keynote titled “The Product Begins with You”, where she talked about building the mindset and mentality to succeed in an often male-dominated VC environment. Her motto “We invest in you first, then your product” highlights the need for a strong team as the foundation of a successful startup. Joseph Wei, Jillian Manus, Mary Vincent and Prachi Baxi also engaged in a panel discussion on fund-raising for female entrepreneurs. These sessions give the attendees insights into the recipe of building a successful company, as well as an opportunity to ask specific questions that the entrepreneurs are currently facing.
The winning team of the pitch competition was awarded a $5000 cash prize. In addition, the top three teams were awarded:
• Co-working space provided by Digital Garage
• Marketing assessment session provided by JJR Marketing
• Legal consulting by Royse Law Firm
Testimonies from Speakers and Startup Founders
“Being part of and winning the WIE competition – was like coming ‘home’ – every woman in the room understood the issues that we face – encouraging more girls in engineering. It was an amazing and humbling experience.”- Sharmi Albrechtsen, CEO, SmartGurlz, Pitch Competition Winner
“It was an honor to be recognized as a top participant in the IEEE WIE pitch competition… Events such as IEEE WIE play a pioneering role in promoting equality, diversity and provide opportunities that help women become successful entrepreneurs.”- Julie Basu, Founder & CEO smartQED, Pitch Competition 3rd Place
“Don’t follow your dreams… follow your talents… then the dreams will follow you” – Jillian Manus, Managing Partner, Structure Capital
“It was such a wonderful experience especially when I was able to witness some founders who transformed within 24hours after having coach session. Thank you for having me! “- Maya Kanehara, Vice-President, Digital Garage
“I loved having the opportunity to bring our work to a new audience and be a part of the IEEE community.” Brittany Déjean, Founder & CEO, AbleThrive
“We at SoleMate Solutions had an incredible time pitching for IEEE WIE. It was our first time getting coached on our pitch and meeting such a distinguished group of judges I would highly recommend this competition to others.” – Kristine Khieu, Co-founder, SoleMate Solutions
List of speakers, judges and pitch coaches:
Donna Griffit, CEO, Donna Griffit Corporate Storyteller
Edward King, Vice President, Inventec
Jillian Manus, Managing Partner, Structure Capital
Jocelyn Goldfein, Managing Diretor, Zetta Venture Partners
Joseph Wei, Venture Partner, SkyChee Ventures
Kurt Petersen, Co-Chair of Wearables Group, Band of Angels
Mary Vincent, Science and Technology Advisory Board Member, YStrategies
Maya Kanehara, Vice President, Digital Garage
Peter Hsi, Senior Fellow, Honeywell; Member, Band of Angels
Prachi Baxi, CEO, SmartyPans
Veronica Osinski, Founder and Managing Partner, Trifecta Capital
List of Startups Presenting
AbleThrive: Health platform for spinal cord injury recovery, www.ablethrive.com
Axis Earth: Social and Business network for sports, www.axisearth.com
CultureClout: Mobile app platform for event-based community, www.tediferous.com
Effne: Online marketplace for luxury wholesale furniture, www.effne.com
Gavano: Predictive energy analytics for data center, www.gavano.co
Gr8er Good Games: Telemystery box for engaging remote workers, www.telemysteryboxes.com
Obe Inc. (2nd Place): Smart products and services for pet care, www.ObeDog.com
ROVO: Customer focused marketing platform, www.letsrovo.com
SmartGurlz (1st Place Winner): Teaching girls to code, www.smartgurlz.com
SmartQED (3rd Place): AI-driven workbench for IO Ops and data centers, www.smartQED.com
SoleMate Solutions: Personal crutches rehabilitation solution, www.solematesolutions.com
STEM-Away: “LinkedIn” for students & junior professionals in STEM, www.stemaway.com
We thank the following sponsors for providing funding or in-kind support to the winning teams:
 L. Huang, “Why Female Entrepreneurs Have a Harder Time Raising Venture Capital,” Scientific American, 05-Jun-2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-female-entrepreneurs-have-a-harder-time-raising-venture-capital1/. [Accessed: 11-Jun-2018].
 K. Hannon, “How Women Entrepreneurs Can Be More Successful,” Forbes, 26-Jan-2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2018/01/26/how-women-entrepreneurs-can-be-more-successful/#11abc6483b94. [Accessed: 11-Jun-2018].
 Wendy DuBow & Allison-Scott Pruitt, The Comprehensive Case for Investing More VC Money in Women-Led Startups, Harvard Business Review, September 17, 2017. [Online] Available: https://hbr.org/2017/09/the-comprehensive-case-for-investing-more-vc-money-in-women-led-startups. [Accessed: 11-Jun-2018].