January 28, 2023
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TechPitch seeks Central Coast entries for contest


TechPitch, the annual business plan contest held in San Luis Obispo, is calling for Central Coast startups to apply for this year’s competition.

Now in its fourth year, TechPitch has become a must-attend event that draws hundreds of business, technology and civic leaders. It’s organized through a collaboration between Cal Poly’s Small Business Development Center and Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Softec, and the Economic Vitality Corp. of San Luis Obispo County.

Six teams will be selected to pitch to a panel of expert investors and judges. The winner receives a cash prize, consulting services and contacts and opportunities from the organizers and the crowd. Companies from Northern Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County are eligible to compete.

Doug Hutcheson, the former CEO of Leap Wireless International, which was sold to AT&T for $1.3 billion earlier this year, will be the keynote speaker.

Past winners told the Business Times that the competition was instrumental in moving their business plans forward.

InPress Technologies came about when two Cal Poly biomedical engineering students came up with a device to address postpartum bleeding, the No. 1 cause of death among new mothers. The problem is especially acute in the developing world.

Bringing a medical device to market is a long, expensive and complicated process compared to code-based software startups. But the InPress team benefited from winning TechPitch in its second year.
“We started seriously trying to raise money,” said Nathan Bair of InPress. “TechPitch came along and really pushed things forward.”

Bair said the competition was invaluable in helping the company secure a seed funding round of $1.2 million. InPress is now hitting several major milestones, including some of the manufacturing certifications it will need to market medical devices and the beginning of clinical trials overseas. The company will soon be seeking an A series round of $2 million to $4 million in funding.

Bair said TechPitch was vastly different from other pitch contests, where it can seem like the judges’ “No. 1 job is to rip you to shreds.”

“We know that the people in the audience are people we need to meet and to talk to, but people are really quick to give you constructive feedback” at TechPitch, Bair said. “We were actually able to raise a sizeable amount of money that carried us a long way. TechPitch is serious, but at the same time, it’s friendly, and that’s a big difference.”

Another difference that stood out to Bair was the diverse background of the judges. As a medical device startup, the business plan for InPress might not make sense to a software guru.

Bair said that even judges who came from the biotech and pharmaceutical world didn’t seem to understand key elements of the medical device world and were more interested in touting their own experience than providing feedback. That wasn’t the case at TechPitch, he said.

“Diversity is very helpful to us. They did such a good of finding a quality mix [of judges]. No matter what you’re pitching, one of them judges will have some knowledge of it,” Bair said. “We’re now 100 percent comfortable going in front of other groups.”

The competition is open to both Cal Poly students and community businesses. While student teams have won, so have non-student teams. One of last year’s winners was BakBone, a device for holding an iPad one-handed that was invented by an emergency room doctor in Nipomo.

“I think it’s great for us to be able to open it up to Cal Poly students. But what makes it so unique is that it’s not just Cal Poly students,” said Chelsea Brown, programs coordinator for the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

TechPitch stands out because it brings together a number of different organizations all interested in seeing startups succeed on the Central Coast, said Mike Manchak, CEO of EVC-SLO. “This is a different culture than a lot of places. It’s supportive,” he said.

Teams that want to apply should visit www.techpitch.org to submit a business-plan summary. Applications are due by Sept. 15.

The TechPitch event itself will be held from 5-8 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Alex Madonna Expo Center in San Luis Obispo. For ticket prices and information, see www.slohothouse.com/techpitch.