At Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies’ (PACT) annual capital conference last week, three startup founders pitched their ventures to five investors and took home hundreds of thousands in combined investments.
The event, which returned to an in-person format after a virtual version in 2020, began with 45 startup companies making pitches throughout the conference. Ultimately three were chosen for the conference’s pinnacle Lion’s Den, a simulation of the popular ABC show “Shark Tank.” The Lion’s Den featured five local investors:
- Robert Corrato, founder and CEO of Versalus Health
- Mikal Harden, founder and chief friend maker of Juno Capital
- Max Kanevsky, CEO of Pinnacle 21 and founder of OpenCSISC
- Robert Keith, president of Nouveau Capital
- Mike Wells, managing director of Princeton Biopharma Capital Partners
Hale Therapeutics, maker of a nicotine vaporizer that’s designed to wean smokers off nicotine, presented first. The startup was followed by natural hair company Naturaz, maker of a three-part haircare system made with natural ingredients for curly hair. Lastly, the 500-person audience heard from Fulton, an arch support company that makes insoles and shoes from cork, natural latex foam and cactus leather.
For the first time in seven years, all three companies walked away from their time on the stage with hundreds of thousands in investments. Here’s where they stand:
Philly-based CEO Josh Israel presented to the lions about the company’s app and hardware that hits on both the psychological and physical reactions of addition. Hale is meant to mimic nicotine users’ habits while reducing their intake in a pattern that wanes a user slowly off nicotine.
The device will cost a user $50 when it is rolled out, plus a monthly subscription that falls somewhere between $20 and $100, Israel said. His team anticipates a customer will use the device for about one year, and they’re targeting 40 million American smokers, and partner with pharmacists to recommend the device to smokers aiming to quit. Instead of nicotine patches or gum, the startup aims to change smokers’ pattern with nicotine through the act of smoking.
“Instead of putting on a patch or chewing a piece of gum, we’re not changing your behavior at all. We’re saying go ahead and do what you were doing before,” Israel said. “You get that oral fixation, that smoke inhalation, but you’re getting a nicotine therapy replacement product out of it.”
Israel said the company previously raised $2 million in a pre-seed round and was seeking an additional $2 million to finish it. Ultimately, Keith and Corrato offered a combined $200,000, depending on the terms and conditions of the deal.
Founder and CEO Mumbi Dunjwa presented next, sharing that the company was aiming to cater to the more than 60% of people in the US who have curly hair. Instead of expensive and harmful treatments, the line of products aims to repair heat damage done to hair over the years. Collegeville-based Dunjwa used her chemistry and nuclear medicine degree and experience in the pharma industry to develop the vegan and cruelty-free formulas.
“I am our customer,” Dunjwa told the lions. “I get her, and she gets us.”
The first product in the system casts $19.99, and then the three-product bundle costs $59.99 on an every-two-months subscription program after. Dunjwa projected Naturaz would be an $11 million company by 2024, she told the lions. The founder was seeking a $1 million investment with a 20% discount convertible note, with $125,000 invested already though Bucks Country IDA, Ben Franklin Technology Partners and an investor from Social Venture Circle.
After discussion of the size of the market and the similar exits investors had seen in recent years, all five lions invested in Naturaz, for a combined $225,000 investment.
Lastly, cofounders Libie Motchan and Daniel Nelson took the stage. The pair, who according to LinkedIn both recently graduated from The Wharton School, was aiming to modernize shoe insoles and incorporate more whole-body wellness into the product. The insole retails for $48 and costs the company about $4 to produce, the cofounders said. The startup launched seven months ago and has made about $100,000 in revenue, and sold out its inventory twice, they said.
The company is also in the works developing insoles with more variety, like athletic, wide, children’s or half-length for more formal shoes.
“This is really something we’re positioning as a wellness product,” Motchan said. “It’s not solving a medical problem, it’s providing an option for proactive wellness, it’s improving your alignment, improving your posture, improving how you walk.”
Fulton was aiming to raise $1.5 million, with $400,00 already committed. All five lions made investments between $50,000 and $100,000, depending on the terms of the deal, for a combined amount of $350,000.
Watch their full pitches below:
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