Accelerators / Events / Pitches / Startups

Hair scarves and sea life savers won big at Pennovation Accelerator’s 2022 pitch day

Ten founders shared their startups at the accelerator's fifth annual pitch event. Here's how it went down.

The Pennovation Accelerator 2022 cohort. (Courtesy photo)
Update: Mention of the pitch event's judges has been added. (8/9/22, 10:10 a.m.)

Peach Brown, founder of Sledge Scarves, drove home the strength of her non-slip hair scarves by lifting a bowling ball with one in front of pitch judges.

The feat of strength came during Pennovation Accelerator’s fifth annual pitch day on Wednesday. Following six weeks of mentorship and business-development programming, this culminating event allowed the founders of the cohort’s 10 startups to pitch their businesses to three judges with the goal of being named best pitch or overall winner.

Past accelerator alum include 2019’s Kidas, which recently raised a pre-seed round, and SOLUtion Medical, which won the best pitch award in 2020 and has since received funding from NextFab, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, CHOP and others.

The past few years of the accelerator’s pitch days were held virtually because of the pandemic, making this the first one back in person since 2019. Jaime Sweet, the associate director of programming at accelerator host Pennovation Works, told she was impressed by the pitches.

“If you could see where they started from six weeks ago ’til now — and we were doing elevator pitches each week leading up to this — their improvement is stellar, just so incredible,” she said.

Peach Brown presents Sledge Scarves. (Photo via Pennovation)

For early-stage startups, events like the pitch day are important to practice sharing their stories and exposure. Sweet said giving startups this platform can help them reach more people for hiring, selling or offering industry expertise.

She thinks being stuck at home because of the pandemic spurred creative ideas for products.

“People had the time to really dig deep and think about those and launch amazing products,” Sweet said. “And then, of course, there’s all these digital applications and we’re seeing that move to hybrid work and hybrid school, and you could see in the pitches that that’s where we’re headed and where we’re staying.”

The judges of the pitch competition were Rick Genzer, investment director at Ben Franklin Technology Partners; Katie Ruether, executive director of Penn Health-Tech; and Jen Shanis, partner at Robin Hood Ventures.

Leaders from each of the 2022 cohort’s 10 startups pitched, in this order:

  1. Baleena is developing a device to trap microfibers in laundry machines, in order to prevent them from escaping into oceans and drinking water and affecting sea life.
  2. Maeve is developing an intelligent mirror to work with therapy and help people work through body image issues and other mental health struggles.
  3. Epoch Boats is building affordable, high-performance hydrofoil electric boats. CEO Tom Ward said the company wants to transition the marine industry from polluting the environment to being a net positive.
  4. Tergeo is developing a semiautonomous modular robot solution for street and sidewalk cleaning that would work in conjunction with sanitation workers.
  5. CGT Solutions is developing technology to help keep children with autism safe, specifically to prevent them from wandering away from home.
  6. Periventricle is trying to create better cardiovascular outcomes for people, specifically socioeconomically disadvantaged patients.
  7. Track CE is a startup that developed an app to help healthcare providers stay on top of the continuing education credits and keep up to date with their license.
  8. Sledge Scarves is selling a non-slip satin headscarf to protect and maintain users’ hair.
  9. Jochi is a platform designed to help high school students keep track of their day to day responsibilities in and out of the classroom.
  10. ToxiSense is a company that wants to end endotoxin testing on horseshoe crab blood and instead test on a genetically engineered plant with bioluminescent properties. The startup won the University of Pennsylvania’s Venture Lab Startup Challenge back in May.

Shoshana Weintraub presents Baleena. (Photo via Pennovation)

The winner of the best pitch award was Brown from Sledge Scarves, earning a cash prize of $3,000 and other perks from Pennovation. While this was not her first pitch competition — catch her winning second prize at Black Girl Ventures’ Philly event in 2020 — Brown said she was still nervous because everyone in the cohort did a great job.

“Now I can move forward with my next steps, which is what I’ve been working on in this cohort the entire time,” she said. “I’m excited to see what happens next.”

The overall winner of the competition, which was based on growth over the last six weeks and pitch scores, was Baleena. The company — which previously won Penn’s President’s Sustainability Prize — received a cash prize of $7,000 and other perks. COO Sarah Beth Gleeson and CTO Shoshana Weintraub said that winning gives them more motivation to do the work of growing their company, and they’re excited to see what the future holds. CEO Julia Yan said it was great for the company to get that vote of confidence from Pennovation.

“I think it’s really cool … that people will see that it has an impact,” Yan said of Baleena’s work, “and I think that’s what we need to motivate ourselves in our own work.”

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: Pennovation Center

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