I watched six start-ups from the MBA program at CU Denver pitch their ideas to a panel of judges and the audience. I love watching start-ups pitch their ideas, as its fun to hear presentations and I always walk away with new information and ideas about what others are doing. All six in this group gave great presentations. They were well rehearsed and there were no technology glitches. There was a seventh company who presented first, but I walked in at the end of their presentation, so am not including them in this post. Here’s a quick summary of each one with some of my own thoughts about their idea, followed by my pick of the winners and how the judges picked. Then, I’ll weigh in on which one I would join, if given the opportunity.
- Mobile application development. This company has developed several mobile applications that were selling and driving revenue. It’s strategy is to develop apps for other companies for a reduced cost in exchange for a revenue cut. The company wants to become what it calls a private equity fund for apps by working on many apps in hopes of a few in its portfolio hitting it big. I liked that the founders have revenue and some proof of concept with several apps. It felt to me like they wanted to become the Amazon of app development, taking on all forms of apps in many different markets. I would prefer to see them focus and go deep in understanding one or two markets.
- Restaurant technology platform. I was impressed with the deep research that the founders completed with a few local restaurants to determine how technology can be leveraged to improve the restaurant experience for customers. I liked their ideas and if implemented, could do some pretty cool things for restaurants. However, I think they were biting off too much at once. It would be better for them to solve one big problem that is easier to implement rather than try to sell a complete technology suite to a restaurant. Down the line, after they have customers, traction and revenue, they can layer on different services and modules to their platform to solve other problems for restaurants.
- Bagel restaurant. This founder had really done his homework for creating authentic New York bagels in Denver, which included developing a patent-pending process for creating New York city water in Denver. Apparently, New York city water is an important ingredient in creating authentic New York city bagels. I think this founder has a hit on his hand. His plan is to grow with company-owned bagel restaurants. While I like his idea a lot and think he will do very well, I am a grow-fast-grow-big start-up guy, and this founder did not want to grow fast or grow big.
- Online fashion curator balancing between style and sustainability. I don’t know much about the fashion industry, but from my limited knowledge, it feels like it’s getting closer to being transformed by the sustainable movement. This start-up aims to be an online high-end curator of women’s clothing fashion, balancing stylish clothing that is also produced sustainably. The founder has assembled an impressive team with deep experience in the fashion industry. They are swinging for the fences and if they connect, they will hit it big. I think the idea, team and timing is good for a home run hit. Hopefully, they will be able to raise the funding to get their shot.
- Vegetarian restaurant. The founders want to open a vegan/vegetarian restaurant, with the possibility of franchising the concept in the future. There are some excellent existing vegan/vegetarian restaurants in the Denver-metro area, but I don’t see them opening additional locations or franchising their concepts, so I wonder if the market can support such a growth plan.
- Health messages on clothing products. This idea wants to develop a women’s bra that would include messages on the clothing for helping detect breast cancer. The promotional model was to replicate the Toms Shoes model of giving away one free item to people in third world countries for every item purchased in the U.S. My problem with this model is that the value seemed to be in the messaging on the product, but not in the product in the form of improved features/functionality. Also, as one of the panelists pointed out, many other companies have tried or are trying the Tom’s model with no success.
- First place: Online fashion curator;
- Second place: Bagel restaurant;
- Third place: Restaurant technology platform.
I like to see ideas that solve real pain and its seems to me that these three do that, while the others do not. I was a bit torn between who would take first place – the online fashion curator or the bagel restaurant. I chose the former because I am a grow-fast-grow-big start-up junkie, which is what this prospect wants to do. The bagel restaurant took second place because I think it’s a solid, well-research idea that will do well. I like third place and while it could be huge, their idea has not been baked enough compared to the other two.
The judges picks:
- Tie for first and second: Online fashion curator and mobile app developer;
- Second place: restaurant technology platform.
I can see the judges picking the mobile app developer. Two of the judges were software/internet investors, so they are coming from a more biased position towards technology.
Which one would I join?
Not the restaurant technology platform. I spent almost 10 years in technology and worked on three different start-ups; four companies total, if you count the company I went to work for after selling my start-up to them. I love technology, but really don’t like doing software start-ups. There is so much money and so many smart people that I find it too hard to succeed. Plus, it moves so fast that its hard to keep up. You can do everything right with a tech start-up and still fail…there is too much of an element of luck that makes or breaks companies. I just don’t like those odds. Which is why I migrated to consumer products. But if you combine hardware with technology in a consumer product, that is interesting to me and I hope to do one someday.
So, how about the bagel restaurant? I love the concept and think it will be successful, but the founder wants to grow slow and not get big. If he changes his mind and wants to supercharge his growth by adding wholesale and retail channels, I would be really interested.
So that leaves the online fashion curator. What interests me about this company is:
- Timing. Sustainability as a value differentiator for apparel may start to take hold in a big way.
- Fashion fascinates me. I am always amazed at how the industry can bring products from concept to market in such short-time frames, even with production and target markets spread half a world away. It would be fun to learn more how this is done.
- Great team. I like working with smart people. The founder appears to have put together a great team that has deep experience and intelligence for the industry.