May 22, 2024
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Nexstera Tech, Mense win big at AngelCon 2024


L-R, a rep from Pacific Premier, Nexstera CEO Penny Lane Case, Kylene Landerberger, Stefany James and CIE Director Judy Mahan. (courtesy photo)

Female founders stood proudly in the spotlight on May 2 as two women-founded companies took first and second place at the seventh annual AngelCon Pitch Competition.

Hosted by the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Small Business Development Center, six teams competed at AngelCon, which raised a total of $215,000 from 21 investors.

Nexstera Tech, a company looking to revolutionize radar technology, won first place and $165,000 in equity investment while Mense, a company working in the women’s health space, was awarded second place and $50,000 in funding.

Little Feet Packaging, which is on a mission to replace the 160 million tons of plastic packaging used each year with a paper-based recyclable and compostable solution called Pubble Wrap, won $1,560 for the Audience Choice Award.

“It’s been so exciting to see how further along the teams are now from when we first started,” Judy Mahan, CIE Senior Economic Development Director, told the Business Times.

“It has gotten more competitive and that’s made everything better.”

Mahan also noted how this year’s event was “highlighted” by how well the women-led teams looked and presented.

“We’re super stoked to be able to give them that nudge, help them move the needle and help them get funded,” she said.

Led by CEO Penny Lane Case, Nexstera tech uses AI-enhanced radar technology to detect hazardous materials, primarily lithium batteries, in waste bins and proactively prevent environmental disasters. 

Nexstera is co-founded by chief technical officer Stefany James and chief product officer Kylene Landenberger.

“I feel so grateful. I’m still in shock,” Case told the Business Times after the event.

“I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude for the funding that will support our research and development over this next year and then also have all of these incredible angel investors working with us for the entirety of our company. It’s wonderful to have these connections now.”

During her pitch, Case noted that fires started from lithium batteries in waste bins have equated to over $1.2 billion in damages in the U.S. and Canada alone every year.

“When we haphazardly toss our lithium-ion batteries into our curbside recycling or waste bins, we introduce them to a world of violence,” she said.

Nexstera’s flagship product, Pyrotack, targets the billion-dollar issue of battery-induced fires in the waste stream.

Nexstera had already raised a pre-seed round before AngelCon that was oversubscribed, raising $385,000.

With that and the $165,000 from the event, Case said the team’s main focus is hiring, specifically key radar hires.

“Our first priority is radar and our second is software so we need to keep adding people to the team to support Kylene and Stefany with their research,” Case said.

As Nexstera grows, the team will be staying in San Luis Obispo, Case said.

“SLO doesn’t have much tech and so we would like to be a company that creates that space here and can support Cal Poly’s incredible STEM program because so many people want to stay here but they don’t have anywhere to work,” Case said.

“We want to open the doors for that and really start a revolution.”

The second-place winner, Mense, is led by CEO and founder McCall Brinskele.

“I’m very grateful for this opportunity. It’s been wonderful going through this process and working with all the angel investors on our pitches. It’s already helped us immensely in our other pitch competitions. And I’m very excited for what’s to come,” Brinskele told the Business Times.

Mense is dedicated to creating a period product alternative for people who menstruate such as a menstrual cup and applicator.

With the other $50,000 in funding, the team will be putting it toward creating their prototype to send out to friends and family, Brinskele said.

In a March interview with the Business Times, she noted how her sister’s story inspired her to find a solution.

Now in the years since starting her journey in the women’s health space, she said it has become her “passion.”

“It’s wonderful to be working with a community of individuals who are always cheering each other on. I think that’s what’s unique about female founders and the women’s health space in particular. No matter what we’re doing, there really isn’t a competition, because everyone wants everyone to succeed because we’re so desperate for solutions,” Brinskele said.

Mense also hopes to continue growing in San Luis Obispo.

The other competing companies included Horizen Biotechnology, a startup on a mission to create a drinking culture that prioritizes safety, health, and well-being; JackRabbit Salvage Marketplace, a startup that serves the design & construction industries as well as buyers of materials, facilitating the monetization of primarily C&D (construction & demolition) waste; thus turning waste into product; and Liquid8, which is aiming to create a water conservation and trading marketplace that will allow corporate sustainability directors to meet their water-neutral goals.