Ten finalists pitched their startups to these investors at Microsoft in New York City on November 9, 2015. The grand prize winner, SoftSpot, received $25,000 as a cash grant.
Meet the Jury
President of BBG Ventures
Susan Lyne is President of BBG Ventures, a new venture fund for women-led tech start-ups. The fund is focused on consumer internet businesses – services, content, commerce – based on the belief that there is a huge opportunity in backing smart entrepreneurs who reflect and understand the consumers driving the fastest-growing areas of the internet.
Before launching the BBG Fund, Susan was most recently CEO of the AOL Brand Group where she oversaw AOL’s unique content brands including AOL.com, TechCrunch, Engadget, StyleList, Moviefone, and MapQuest.
From 2008-2013 Susan was CEO and then Chairman of Gilt Groupe, the innovative ecommerce company that pioneered flash sales in the United States.
Prior to that Susan spent three decades in the media industry. She served as President and CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) from 2004-2008. While there she was named Publishing Executive of the Year by Advertising Age and received a Matrix Award from New York Women In Communications.
From 1996 to 2004, Ms. Lyne held various positions at the Walt Disney Company and ABC, including EVP of Movies and Miniseries and later President of ABC Entertainment where she was responsible for the network’s primetime schedule, overseeing the development of shows including Desperate Housewives, Lost, and Grey’s Anatomy.
Before joining Disney she was Managing Editor of New Times and The Village Voice and created and launched Premiere Magazine, serving as Editor-in-Chief and Publication Director.
Susan Lyne is Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Gilt.com and a director of Starz LLC. Additionally, Ms. Lyne is a trustee of Rockefeller University and The New School, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Follow me on Twitter at @smlyne
Joanne Wilson has had many careers. She started out in retail, eventually moving to the wholesale arena. She then transitioned to the media side of the technology world, before reinventing herself as an investor. She is currently an active angel investor with a portfolio of over 65 companies such as Food52, Catchafire, Vengo, Nestio, Captureproof, Makers Row, Le Tote, and Little Borrowed Dress. She has been involved in numerous real estate transactions from beginning to end and continues to make investments in that world. She is also an investor in a few restaurants in the New York area. In addition to these endeavors, Joanne has been involved in various education projects and chairs Hot Bread Kitchen, a nonprofit committed to increasing access to the culinary industry for woman and minority entrepreneurs. She also sits on the board of The Highline and Wesleyan University.
Joanne has maintained her very popular blog, www.gothamgal.com, for over 10 years. She loves to bake, cook, throw a good party, travel, read, collect art, do the crossword and stay on top of what’s happening around the globe and in NYC.
Her most successful venture is being married to her best friend, Fred and raising their three kids Jessica, Emily and Josh.
Follow me on Twitter at @thegothamgal
Founder and Managing Director of digitalundivided (DID)
Kathryn Finney is the founder and Managing Director of digitalundivided (DID), a social enterprise that finds, supports, and trains urban tech entrepreneurs. DID runs the highly successful FOCUS Fellow program, an accelerator/incubator program for black women founders/co-founders of tech enabled companies. Focus Fellows have raised over 10 Million Dollars in Angel and/or Venture funding for their companies.
digitalundivided also leads a number of other important initiatives including #ProjectDiane, a project that disrupts pattern-matching in tech by identifying black women founders of tech enabled companies, and START, a program in partnership with the United Negro College Fund that teaches startup basics to students at Historically Black Colleges.
Kathryn is a 2016 Eisenhower fellow, a fellowship given to exceptional young global leaders.
In 2013, Kathryn received the Champion of Change Award from the White House for her work increasing inclusion in the tech industry. She’s also received the New York Business Journal’s Women of Influence Award, SXSW Black Innovator Award, The Grio 100, Ebony Power 100 List of the Most Influential African Americans, Black Enterprise “40 under 40” list, and induction into Spelman College’s “Game Changers Academy”.
On February 26, 2015, Kathryn was honored by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer with the “Kathryn Finney Appreciation Day”.
From 2012-2014, she’s served as Editor-At-Large at BlogHer, INC.. She was also one of the first lifestyle bloggers and founder of The Budget Fashionista Brand (sold to Speak Media). Kathryn and TBF were featured in more than 1000 media outlets, including the TODAY show, and the New York Times, The success of the TBF has led to the book: How to be a Budget Fashionista (Random House) and partnerships with major brands such as Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and TJ Maxx.
Kathryn is an honors graduate of Yale University where she received numerous awards including the Courtland Van Creed Award and Rutgers University, where she was a member of the USA Today All Academic Team.
VC at Flybridge
Victoria’s investment interests include consumer web, mobile and enterprise software markets. She worked at Flybridge from 2010 to 2012 and rejoined after completing her MBA at Harvard Business School (HBS) in 2014. In prior positions, Victoria worked as a business development executive at Google[X] and at tracx as well as a research associate writing curriculum on entrepreneurship for Harvard Business School, and helped launched the United Crimes Elimination Network (UCEN), the most extensive global network to prevent financial crimes and identify financial criminals. Victoria was on Forbes 30 Under 30 Venture Capital List in 2015.
Victoria loves working with entrepreneurs who are going to change the world and enjoys being at the front line of innovation. She is also the founder and CEO of So She Did, a not-for-profit social movement with the mission to help young women invest in themselves from the inside out.
When she’s unplugged from tech, Victoria loves to dance (everything from hip hop to ballroom), run with her Siberian Husky, Meeko, and write letters to her future self. Victoria graduated from Yale College with a degree in economics, and received an MBA from Harvard Business School.
ROUND 1 JUDGES
Vice President of Business Development, Haven
Renee DiResta is Vice President of Business Development at Haven, an online platform for buying and selling ocean freight capacity, and co-founder of the Flight.vc Internet of Things Syndicate. She recently departed O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures (OATV), where she invested in seed-stage technology startups with a focus on hardware, manufacturing, and logistics companies. Prior to OATV, Renee was an equity derivatives trader at Jane Street Capital, a quantitative proprietary trading firm in NYC. DiResta is interested in improving liquidity and transparency in private markets, and enjoys investing in and advising hardware startups. She is the author of “The Hardware Startup: Building Your Product, Business, and Brand”. She lives on the web at http://reneediresta.com and @noupside.
Principal at BBG Ventures
Nisha Dua is Principal at BBG Ventures, a New York-based seed stage venture capital fund founded by Susan Lyne and backed by AOL, investing in women-led technology companies. We back founders who are creating market-defining consumer applications and services that make our lives simpler, better, more delightful.
BBG Ventures grew out of AOL’s #BUILTBYGIRLS initiative, which aims to inspire and support women and girls to claim their place in the tech-enabled economy by imagining and building the great products of the future or by tapping technology to power their work/play/passions.
Nisha is also the General Manager of Cambio, a site for girls, #builtbygirls. The new Cambio was built out of a partnership with Girls Who Code. Five GWC alumni helped rebuild the site as a platform that not only entertains but empowers young women to build anything they want to build and be anything they want to be.
Follow me on Twitter at @Nish67
Arlan is an emerging venture capital fund manager, and tour manager to Atlantic Records recording artist Janine & The Mixtape. Having founded and published the internationally distributed indie music magazine INTERLUDE, blogged to an audience of 50,000, and toured extensively as a live music production professional, she enters the venture world from an unconventional path. Arlan is dedicated to minimizing funding disparities in tech by investing in high-potential founders who are of color, women, and/or LGBT.
Follow me on Twitter at @ArlanWasHere
Venture Partner at Future Perfect Ventures
Sarah Kunst is a entrepreneur, investor, advisor and philanthropist. She is from rural Michigan and attended Michigan State University. She has worked at Apple, Red Bull, Chanel, Mohr Davidow Ventures and a number of media and consumer startups. She is currently a partner at Fortis. Her philanthropic interests include Help Us Adopt, Code2040, USA State Department’s Tech Women program, Technovation Challenge and being on the boards of Venture for America and the New York City Department of Education Finance and Business Commission. She also mentors and advises racially, geographically and gender diverse startups through NewMe, Digital Undivided, Mergelane, The Startup Factory, Boost.vc and Techstar’s Patriot Bootcamp.
Kunst is on the 2015 Forbes Magazine 30 under 30 list and has been recognized for her work in Business Insider as a 30 under 30 and Top African-America
Follow me on Twitter at @sarahkunst
Chair, K Street Capital
Penny Lee is a seasoned political and communications strategist with over 20 years of experience. She has worked extensively with the executive branch, as well as elected officials in both houses and across the aisles of Congress, State Government, and in the private sector. Lee is a regular commentator on the po-litical process, campaigns, and elections for US News and World Report, and ap-pears regularly as an analyst on CNN and FOX News Channel.
Lee is presently a Senior Advisor at Venn Strategies, LLC, having served as the firm’s President for the past four years. Venn Strategies, LLC is a public affairs and government relations firm located in Washington, DC. She has provided federal, state, and local advocacy, strategic positioning, guidance, crisis communications ad-vice, and political strategy direction to clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to non-profits.
From 2007-2008, Lee served as the top communications and political advisor to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Over her extensive public affairs career, she has served as the Executive Director of the Democratic Governors Association (where she oversaw 38 statewide elections and helped Democratic governors regain the ma-jority of statehouses for the first time in more than a decade), Communications Direc-tor for Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, and as a member of the senior staff of the Democratic National Committee.
Lee currently serves on the Advisory Board for 1776, a Washington, DC incubator and accelerator for global startups and serves as Chair for a Greater-DC angel in-vestment group called K Street Capital. As an avid golfer, Lee has also served on the First Tee of Greater Washington Board, and the Advisory Board for Bloomberg Government. Lee has lectured at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, Georgetown Univer-sity and the University of Pennsylvania.
She holds a BA with a double major in journalism and political science from Baylor University.
CEO and co-founder of On Second Thought
Maci Peterson is the CEO and co-founder of On Second Thought, a messaging app that lets you take back text messages before they get to the other person. In 2015, she was named “Tech’s Newest Innovator” by Essence Magazine and recognized among Washington Business Journal’s “40 Under 40”. On Second Thought won First Place at SXSW’s annual pitch competition #StartupOasis in 2014, was named “The Texting Savior” by AT&T, and won 1st Place in the inaugural Women Who Tech Startup Challenge, in partnership with Craig Newmark of craigslist and Fred and Joanne Wilson. Before launching On Second Thought, Peterson was a brand manager at Marriott International and a marketing strategist for The Root. Peterson received her Bachelor of Arts in public relations and advertising from Chapman University.
Follow me on Twitter at @OnSecondThought
CoFounder of BlogHer and Chief Community Officer at SheKnows Media
Lisa became Chief Community Officer when SheKnows Media acquired BlogHer Inc., which she co-founded with Elisa Camahort Page and Jory Des Jardins in 2005. As CEO, Lisa charted BlogHer’s path from a grassroots conference into a leading cross-platform media company reaching 100 million unique visitors monthly and powered by a proprietary scalable technology platform. She was honored in 2013 with a Fortune Most Powerful Women Entrepreneur Award and Fast Company’s The 1000 Most Creative People in Business.
Previously, Lisa launched the first sponsored blog network for Law.com and blogged about the 2004 Democratic National Convention for LATimes.com. Lisa was the first Internet journalist to receive a Nieman Fellowship by Harvard University in 2002 after helping to grow Women.com into a top-30 site. There, she oversaw all original programming, integrated with Hearst and Rodale magazines and worked with E! Television/ Online, HBO’s “Sex and the City,” Bloomberg and Gallup, among others. She left the traditional newsroom (Oakland Tribune, CNN) in 1997 but continues to write regularly about gender and digital storytelling (New York Times, LATimes.com, The Huffington Post, to name a few).
Follow me on Twitter at @LisaStone
Program Manager of Mozilla
Diane helps talented tech innovators realize their audacious visions by developing their messages, programs and events and wrangling teams of people to get stuff done. She also loves to public speak (really) and coach entrepreneurs on how to effectively present their pitches.
Diane’s had the privilege to work with amazing people at Mozilla, Charles Schwab, a myriad of Internet startups, a venture capital firm and an executive search firm, and speak at events including TEDx, South by Southwest (SXSW), the HTML5DevConf and the ForwardJS conference.
She went to Stanford University to study history, UC Berkeley’s Haas School to study business, and completed the Coro Community Fellowship to gain a greater understanding of big-picture complexities.
Follow me on Twitter at @tbiz
Shelly Kapoor Collins
Shelly is a frequent Tech entrepreneur and Advisor who works at the intersection of Technology, Politics and Innovation. In 2015, the Economic Times of India named Shelly one of the twenty most influential global Indian women. Shelly is Founder and CEO of Tech Hill Advisors, based in Silicon Valley. Tech Hill is based on Shelly’s keen understanding of the challenges faced by innovative companies, where Technologies outpace state and federal legislation and regulations. Shelly has extensive experience in aligning public sector officials with relevant private sector stakeholders around a specific issue to drive actionable results. Previously, Shelly founded Enscient Solutions.
Shelly developed Root Square, an innovative, incentive-driven online fundraising tool designed to enable political candidates and non-profits to raise funds across social media sites. Currently, Shelly is developing Shatter Capital, a funding platform for women led startups. Shatter accelerates women’s role in tech and offers guidance and support from idea to delivery. Shelly also started the Veterans Training Council to train and connect honorably discharged veterans with skills to prepare them for 21st century careers in top-notch companies.
Shelly is one of eight female CEOs appointed to the National Women’s Business Council in the Obama Administration and was a member of the President’s delegation to India in January 2015. Shelly served as Vice Chair of the Women in Public Service started by Secretary Hillary Clinton while at the State Department and is actively helping to develop women leaders in government and civic organizations on a global level. Shelly has served in a number of appointed and advisory positions for President Obama, including as a National Co-chair for Technology during the 2012 Presidential Campaign, was a Technology Advisor to the Office of the Attorney General, Kamala D. Harris and a Technology Advisor to the India Senate Caucus. Shelly is a staunch advocate of STEM Education to young girls in underrepresented communities.
Shelly holds an M.S. in MIS and B.S. in MIS, from the University of Maryland College Park.
Follow me on Twitter at @ShalKCollins
Partner at 500 Startups
Elizabeth is a partner at 500 Startups. She’s also the co-founder and Advisor to LaunchBit. She frequently speaks at conferences and events and has previously spoken at Women 2.0 partner events, Web 2.0, Lean Startup events, TechStars, MIT, Stanford, Yale, and Babson among others.
Executive Director, Digital DC Technology Fund
Sibyl is the Executive Director for DC Innovates (DCI), a nonprofit organization with the mission of fostering and supporting a diverse tech innovation economy in the District of Columbia. DCI manages the Digital DC Technology Fund (DDCTF), a $1 million fund and customized mentorship program dedicated to promoting the success of early and growth stage technology ventures in the District.
Sibyl is also the President of DC Web Women (DCWW), one of the longest-running tech nonprofits for women in D.C, which supports and advocates for women and girls in technology by providing a community in which they can develop and promote their leadership, technical and professional skills.
For over a decade, Ms. Edwards has created successful digital campaigns for Fortune 500 companies, non-profit associations and startups.
Working with organizations to help expand their digital presence she develops strategies to grow their business and build their brands. Her clients include The World Bank, Land O’Lakes International Development, Social@Ogilvy, Rosetta Stone, Cision and Marriott.
Director- Ventures & Innovation, Discovery Communications
An entrepreneur, attorney, and MBA, Adam is the founder of Fosterly, an organization which connects innovators and entrepreneurs as they start and scale their endeavors. In January 2015, Fosterly held the Collaborate Conference, the region’s largest innovation and entrepreneurship event of the year. More than the 1,000 attendees included leading innovators from both the private and public sectors including Google X, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, NASA, the White House, the GSA, and more.
In addition to being an active member of the Washington, DC metro region’s community (e.g, being a member on Mayor Bowser’s transition committee) he serves on the advisory boards of other organizations, mentors entrepreneurs and startups, and has a full time position focused on innovation initiatives at the world’s #1 pay-TV provider, Discovery Communications.
Just a few of the brands he’s collaborated with include Anheuser-Busch, Box.com, Discovery Communications, DocuSign, Facebook, Box.com, Microsoft, NASA, Twitter, and Verizon.
Co-founder and CEO of ActionSprout.com
Drew is co-founder and CEO of ActionSprout.com, a company that provides tools to help nonprofit organizations leverage Facebook to build more and deeper relationships with supporters. Drew has been an active angel investor in Portland Oregon for the past ten years. He currently sits on the board of directors of GetLittleBird.com and is a tireless advocate and supporter of entrepreneurs in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. When not at the office, he can be found mentoring entrepreneurs or laughing and exploring with his wife, kids and labradoodle, Charlie.
Founding Partner SoGal Ventures and A-Level Capital
Elizabeth Galbut is the Founding Partner of two start-up venture capital firms, SoGal Ventures and A-Level Capital.
During her graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University & Maryland Institute College of Art, Elizabeth consulted with hundreds of start-ups and identified the lack of pre-seed funding as the major issue preventing these startups from succeeding. To solve this, she created A-Level Capital, the student-led venture capital firm powered by Johns Hopkins students. With her team of 17 student venture capital partners, A-Level Capital aims to invest in 80 JHU student and young alumni startups in the next five years.
Elizabeth knew the venture capital firm she desired to work for currently does not exist, and set out to create her own. SoGal Ventures is the first female-led millennial venture capital firm, with an investment focus on exceptional, diverse founding teams that have plans for global domination through tackling major consumer or healthcare problems in the U.S. and Asia. SoGal Ventures represents how far our generation has come, and how deep our impact on the world can be.
Prior to graduate studies, as a Strategy and Operations Consultant at Deloitte Consulting, Elizabeth focused her attention on developing long-term strategy for a variety of large healthcare clients. She contributed to business development efforts leading to over $200M of new work.
Elizabeth is a proud alumnus of Georgetown University, London School of Economics, Johns Hopkins University, and Maryland Institute College of Art.
Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @design4innov8
Found of SoGal
Pocket is the founder of SoGal and Founding Partner of SoGal Ventures. During graduate school, Pocket built and grew SoGal from a new student organization in November 2014 to an empowering global community of 3,000+ diverse entrepreneurs and investors in 26 countries. She created and produced dozens of large-scale events for hundreds of emerging founders, and advised over 20 startups within a year. She is also known as a master connector. Prior to SoGal, Pocket was a Global Marketing Specialist co-managing a $3B product portfolio.
Born and raised in China, Pocket is bicultural and bilingual. She holds a Master of Science in Entrepreneurship and Innovation degree from University of Southern California, and Bachelor of Business Administration degree from College of William & Mary.
Follow Pocket on Twitter @pocketysun
Investor, 37 Angels
Ligaya launches new markets for consumer technology companies. She kickstarted Airbnb’s international development as Global Head of Offline Marketing & Community during their most rapid growth phase. Prior to that, she was a Marketing Manager for Yelp, helping the company expand their footprint across the US. Ligaya now angel invests and advises startups and serves as a mentor for 500 Startups. She is also a regular speaker at SXSW, various TEDx, and CMX Summit. Ligaya was also selected as a 2014 TechWomen by the US Department of State.