By Tamara Cryar -- December 16, 2013
The social media stage at Dell World 2013 hosted the culminating event for the 2014 Tech Innovation Day: Pitch Slam. The Dell Center for Entrepreneurs Pitch Days Finals brought together seven late-stage startup companies from all over the nation and one finalist from the UK.
Ingrid Vanderveldt moderated the event. She heads the Center for Entrepreneurs, runs the Dell Founders’ Club and is on the Advisory Board of the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN). Representatives from each competing company had the unique opportunity to pitch their ideas directly to some impressive expert entrepreneurs:
- Daymond John of ABC’s "Shark Tank" fame. John is a highly regarded marketing and entrepreneurial expert and the genius behind one of the most iconic fashion brands in recent years — FUBU (For Us By Us).
- Elizabeth Gore, the first Resident Entrepreneur at the United Nations Foundation and chair of their Global Entrepreneurs Council. She builds global partnerships and supports humanitarian issues.
- Our own Michael Dell, whom Vanderveldt introduced to the crowd as someone who “knows a little something about building business and technology.”
Each finalist was given eight minutes to convince the judges why Dell should partner with them (five minutes to pitch and three for Q&A). Vanderveldt played a great host to the standing-room-only crowd. She kept things lively, even steering the judges toward a more hard-hitting kind of competition. When she introduced Daymond John to the audience, she joked, “Please don’t be nice to these people. We’re counting on you.”
But these judges were hardly as biting as Simon Cowell. They were complimentary, keeping commentary to a relative minimum. They asked relevant, fair questions. The truth of the matter is that all the candidates were excellent ones and the judges would have been hard pressed to tear anyone to pieces.
The companies that entered the contest were widely focused on high-tech areas including Big Data and analytics, infrastructure and platform and enterprise solutions. Seven finalists made it to the Pitch Slam finals at Dell World:
- Nebula — As the first contestant to go on-stage, previous CTO of NASA Chris Kemp set a tough tone for the competition. Nebula’s mission is to enable businesses to easily, securely and inexpensively build large-scale computing infrastructures, and he claimed it can be done in a day. Gore asked Kemp after his pitch, “Can it really be done in a day?” Kemp answered, “Well, it was done in a morning here on the floor at Dell World.” Good answer, Chris.
- SimpleRelevance — This Chicago-based company openly asked Michael for access to more customers. They harvest data from a company’s existing services, add information and use their technology to “create intensely personalized communication from client to customer every time.”
- Ihiji — This Austin-based finalist focuses on disruptive technologies. Their product is a scalable and flexible web-based platform allowing for remote network monitoring, support and documentation that would purportedly provide further differentiation for Dell, should Michael choose to partner up.
- Bottlenose — Perhaps the sexiest concept of all those presented, this software can monitor and determine what impacts their clients’ brand. The L.A.-based company has developed “sonar trend visualization” as a new way to reveal what’s trending based on their revolutionary technology. The company has an impressive 27 patents pending.
- Neverware — By my personal applausometer, CEO Jonathan Hefter would have won this competition if the spectators had been given a vote. Maybe it’s just being witness to a regular guy doing something worthwhile, but Hefter’s enthusiasm was contagious. Neverware has created what Hefter calls a Juicebox that essentially makes old computers run like new. He’s been fighting apathy within the education system and has begun selling his solution to New York city schools, thus bringing a low-cost, high-tech solution to a place where it's direly needed.
- Fantoo — This London-based company has created an email solution for the common man (and woman) who’s had it up to here with email. They’re selling a cloud-based email client that intelligently categorizes our email inbox and presents it with an optional tapestry of images, thus de-stressing our email experience and increasing our productivity. Daymond John got the biggest laugh of the hour when he asked if they could differentiate for his ex-wife. The answer, of course, is Yes.
- Guavus — Guavus made it to the stage by winning the online side of the Tech Innovation Day contest. This company is hoping to turn business problems into Big Data solutions. They claim that the traditional approach to collecting, loading and processing data is no longer good enough and that their products provide a new model for analytics.
And the winner is…
There was no call for audience participation, no texting in your vote, no secret ballots. The judges were not given the opportunity to talk among themselves. Vanderveldt simply asked each of them to declare their vote for a winner on the spot.
Daymond John chose Fantoo and praised their solution as something that would surely resonate with consumers. Elizabeth Gore selected Neverware for solving a chronic problem and added, “I love your enthusiasm.” John agreed, complimenting Hefter on a “masterful pitch.” And Vanderveldt saved the best for last: Michael named Guavus as his favorite.
Much of the theme of this year’s Dell World has been the spirit of entrepreneurism. Nowhere was that more evident than on the stage at this event. When Michael asked Neil King, winning Pitch Slammer and Vice President of Security Analytics at Guavus, about company growth, King answered, “Well, we have 500 people and we started with one.” Much to the satisfaction of the audience, Michael responded, “That’s the way it usually happens.”
Michael praised all the innovators for their new ideas. He referred to his own joke and reiterated that indeed it starts with one guy. In closing, Vanderveldt brought it back to the one guy who started it for Dell. “Thanks for taking us private and for fostering the entrepreneurial spirit,” she said.
You can find Ingrid Vanderveldt and the Pitch Slam judges on Twitter.
Follow Ingrid @ontheroadwithiv. Follow Daymond John @TheSharkDaymond. Follow Elizabeth Gore @emgoreun. Follow Michael Dell @MichaelDell. You can follow Tamara Cryar @tamaracryar.