May 23, 2024
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Santa Barbara software firm hits it out of the park at Ventech PitchFest


BridgeDoc founders Cameron Lyons, left, and Kelly Wheeler talking to the judges after their pitch. (Jorge Mercado / PCBT Staff)

Hundreds of members from the Santa Barbara community — from investors to business owners to curious parties — packed into the Cabrillo Pavilion on April 18 to see five executives duke it out in the first annual PitchFest.

Hosted by Ventech, an emerging technology forum, the event featured three companies from the Central Coast, including the winner of the whole event, Santa Barbara-based Bridgedoc — a construction software company aimed at bringing more efficiency to document control, contract administration and contract management.

“PitchFest 2024 was a big hit with the Central Coast tech and entrepreneurial community. The event brought together a diverse collection of young companies to tell their stories and experienced judges to evaluate them. Based on the enthusiasm we saw this year, we’ll definitely be hosting PitchFest again in 2025,” Phil Carpenter, Ventech’s board chair, told the Business Times via email.

The other finalists included Ventura-based NXgenPort, Santa Barbara-based FinanceIQ.AI, Watsonville-based Little Feet Packaging and Mill Valley-based Ethereal Matter.

The three judges — who are also staples of the Santa Barbara business community — included Jason Spievak, a managing partner at Entrada Ventures, Dave Adornetto, the entrepreneurship director at UCSB’s technology management program, and Max Menke, the co-founder of GrowthX Capital.

The event highlighted how much the Central Coast has become a player across various sectors of the startup technology industry.

“When I came out of UCSB in 1990, Santa Barbara was where people came to visit their parents. There was a defense sector and some biotech but that was really it so we have worked hard over the decades to foster a vibrant, early-stage ecosystem here and so I love seeing these events come together,” Spievak told the Business Times.

For attendees of the event, it was a chance to hear not just the pitches of these five companies, but the opportunity to hear directly the thought process of the side of those investors on the other side of the table.

“We were looking to evaluate from an investor perspective, meaning which of these companies would we invest in,” Spievak said.

Following BridgeDoc was Little Feet Packaging in second place, a packaging alternative company that creates paper-based recyclable and compostable solutions and FinanceIQ.AI, an AI-based business process automation and optimization platform.

“Two of the top three were pure software plays and that is because there is a lot less capital risk investing in software companies versus hardware companies,” Spievak said.

“For a variety of reasons, software businesses are much more attractive investments.”

In the case of BridgeDoc, Spievak also noted that when investing in an early-stage startup, people are mostly investing in the founding team.

Kelly Wheeler, the CEO and co-founder of BridgeDoc, presented the team’s pitch on April 18.

“There’s no product yet, no customers and so you want to buy into folks that are going to execute effectively and don’t quit until they get it right and that’s something we see in her,” Spievak said.

Little Feet Packaging was presented by founder Nicholas De Luca; FinanceIQ.AI was presented by Jas Dhillon, CEO and chief product officer; Ethereal Matter, a company aimed at creating a fitness product engaging with the virtual world, was presented by founder Scott Summit; and NXgenPort, which has designed an innovative and transformative technology to maximize remote care in cancer patients requiring an implantable chemo-port catheter, was presented by Rosanne Welcher, chief product officer.