A handful of upsides have sprung out of the COVID pandemic — more family time, less commuting, and the ability to compete in business pitches virtually, as opposed to a room of 60 people. That last benefit came as a major relief to participants of the recent business competitions hosted by the Koffman Incubator.
“Pitch competitions are much more than opportunities for funding,” notes Mary O’Malley-Trumble, Senior Vocation Executive at IBM Endicott. “These competitions encourage ideas, build connections, and inspire individuals to take their idea further.”
Recognizing the importance of innovation in the region, IBM’s support enabled two business pitch events, open to members of the community, with the goal of discovering entrepreneurs and providing a launching pad for positive growth.
The first of these pitches was the Think, Link, Launch pitch competition held throughout the year at the Koffman Incubator. Community members and business owners got the chance to network amongst each other as well as judge participating startups’ ideas. Before COVID prompted a virtual transition, seven semi-finalists pitched head-to-head until just three remained.
The finalists were a natural medicine venture, beehive rental company, and custom furniture crafter. All startups who placed in the top three received monetary awards from the IBM sponsorship to spur growth in areas of need.
Rose leaf furniture was crowned first prize winner for their sustainably-made, craftsman-quality furniture for young professionals. The core idea was born a college project and quickly evolved into a business based around sustainability in craftsmanship and design, utilizing local materials in the furniture’s production.
“The prize money will go towards a lathe to increase the production process,” says Katherine Larson, company founder. “We look to further develop our brand and expand our presence to additional states.”
The second IBM-supported competition was between participants in the Koffman’s Accelerator program. In the most recent cohort, seven participating startups worked alongside one another to build up their ideas and construct sound business models with support from expert mentors.
“A key goal of the Accelerator is to teach participants the foundations of starting a business, so they have the best possible chance to succeed,” explains Eric Krohn, Director of Business Incubation at the Koffman. “Upon graduation, teams are in a position to launch, improve and/or pivot their startup.”
As the Accelerator’s crescendo, participants pitched to judges and spectators via Zoom, showcasing their idea and employing the knowledge gained over the three-month program. Those who placed in the money were a specialized tool belt designer, fuel cell cathode creator, and a sustainable cement producer, who took top prize for their unique method of adding recycled glass to the production process.
“KLAW Industries is a recycling and manufacturing company that produces a sustainable alternative to traditional cement in concrete,” says co-founder Jacob Kumpon. “Money from this competition will go towards material testing and sending samples to key customers.”
The six companies that received prize monies from these competitions have the additional benefit of continued support from the Koffman Incubator, its programs, and mentors.
“The Incubator removes roadblocks for entrepreneurs,” says O’Malley-Trumble. “I’ve watched these startups mature and grow over the course of the competitions, and it’s inspiring to see how far they’ve come. As they find success, they’ll be proudly saying ‘I started in Binghamton.’”