This story originally appeared in The Morning Journal
As director of the Small Business Development Center at Lorain County Community College, Lisa Hutson had been looking for a project to partner with the Women’s Business Center of Ohio on along with Jan Conrad, WBC director in Cleveland. So when it came time for the national InnovateHER 2016 competition, she knew she’d found it.
“I’d like to host this,” Hutson said of the competition, aimed at addressing the needs of women and their role in the economy. “It’s a great way to highlight Lorain County and some of the things going on here.”
Geared specifically for entrepreneurs whose products or services directly enhance the lives of women and their families, LCCC hosted the regional finals on Nov. 12 at The Richard Desich Business and Entrepreneurship Center, 151 Innovation Drive in Elyria. From a field of about 25 applicants who submitted business plans, ten finalists were chosen for an opportunity to pitch a panel of judges, with the first place winner moving on to a final round and a chance to pitch in Washington D.C. in March 2016 for a shot at winning $70,000 in prizes provided by Microsoft.
As put forth by the U.S. Small Business Administration, InnovateHER challenges entrepreneurs to present products and services that have a measurable impact on the lives of women and families, have commercialization potential and fill a need in the marketplace.
“We would have had more (competitors), but they didn’t meet the women-centric criteria,” said Conrad. “Even so, paring the submissions down to just ten was difficult.”
The finalists who were chosen to pitch presented a diverse array of ideas, from a babysitting exchange app to a program that helps women get training and placement in sustainable employment. Slotted in ten minute blocks, presenters entered the room to pitch and field questions from a panel of four judges, exiting when done so that none of the finalists heard the others’ presentations.
“It’s really cool that this is a women-centered competition,” said Muhga Eltigani, who pitched her startup NaturAll Club, a home delivery service for organic hair care products she makes herself. Eltigani, whose YouTube channel has videos demonstrating how to make her products at home using natural ingredients like avocado and banana, recognized a need from her viewers who said they didn’t have time to spend making their own products.
After all the pitches had been made, the judges left the room and all the competitors gathered to await the announcement of winners.
Judge Dennis Willis, a business coach from ActionCOACH in Elyria, described the judges’ difficult task in choosing a winner.
“The tough thing is choosing between good and good,” Willis said. “You all did really awesome.”
Third place winner of the InnovateHER competition was Laura Steinbrink’s Brilliency, a software platform that helps consumers see their utility usage on a website and teaches them how to save money with consumer-engaged efficiency.
“Our goal is to shift the paradigm of how energy is bought, sold and traded,” said Steinbrink, noting that Brilliency can be useful for both homeowners and renters alike.
In second place was The Digital Mosaic, a website and app launched by Natalie Bauman. Her background in video production, writing and documentary storytelling inspired the service, which helps users capture moments on video to craft their own stories.
Coming in first place was Glynis Byrd’s TidyCup, a patented product designed specifically for women to collect mid-stream urine samples. Byrd, who has over 30 years of experience in health care, saw a real need for a product like hers. With her business partner Sam Bigham, they’ve spent the last 8 years doing research, developing the product and getting it patented.
Although Byrd said the pitch process is “nervewracking,” she was happy for the opportunity and exhilarated to come in first place.
“We’re the independent inventor,” she said. “We like these sorts of contests because we can be on an equal playing field.
“You’ve got to keep pushing forward and don’t give up.”