By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
The competition, in its second year, featured three minute pitches by 10 companies who are either launching at SXSW or very close to it, said Chris Valentine, manager of the SXSW Accelerator and Startup Village.
“The point is to encourage companies to launch at SXSW,” he said. One of the things that has put the international interactive conference on the map is the success of companies like Twitter that made their public debut at SX.
Honest Dollar CEO Whurley (William Hurley), who pitched the retirement plan service for small businesses, started the post-pitch question-and-answer period by squatting down in front of judge Susan Amat of Miami-based Venture Hive and saying: “You’re the one who seems to be asking the toughest questions so let’s start with you.”
The toughest question seemed to be how Whurley expected the company to grow “virally” among standard small businesses.
Whurley explained that the company was popular among startups and the investors who funded them. A recent Harvard study, he said, showed that retirement benefits came third after compensation and bonuses for benefits requested by employees. He did not believe in the viral effect, he said, but the response from coverage like a recent story in the Wall Street Journal changed his mind.
Spotlight Health, Austin based company that provides comparative pricing on medical procedures along with comprehensive information on the practitioners themselves won second place. The company allows people to find out how much certain doctors or hospitals charge for procedures and compares that to the local average. A knee replacement, for example, might range from 16,000 to 61,000 with the average cost around $30,000. The public can also find other information on the doctors they’re looking at.
Third place went to Ridgewing, a New Hampshire company that produces guitar part modules that can be interchanged and pieced together to make a custom guitar.
First All Woman Judging Panel?
One interesting aspect of the pitch competition was that the panel comprised three female judges. SXSW has been working in recent years to combat claims of racism and sexism and many sessions in 2015 focus on the role of women and minorities in the tech world. As it turned out, the three-woman panel was the result of two male judges not showing up, according to Amat.
“So much of the startup world are men who only think about making a lot of money, which is awesome. But what most entrepreneurs need is the nurturing to become great CEOs and CTOs and CFOs and focus on the people who are going to help them be able to execute,” she said. “ I don’t care how well someone pitches if they can’t freaking execute.”
While she acknowledged being the judge who asked the tough questions she said it was the job of a judging panel to point out the gaps in what they’re seeing in the companies pitching. It’s not about being tough, it’s about helping companies see the holes in what they’re trying to accomplish.
Honest Dollar, however, appears ready to roll.