NJ Ninth-grader Takes Second Place in Spring VANJ Elevator Pitch Olympics

Photo: The Judges gave very high scores to the presentation by Vivek Krishnaswami of Lumos Information Services Photo Credit: Tom Neely
The Judges gave very high scores to the presentation by Vivek Krishnaswami of Lumos Information Services | Tom Neely

The Venture Association of New Jersey (VANJ) Elevator Pitch Olympics is always a unique experience. A panel of investors evaluates — Olympic-style — the two-minute elevator pitches delivered by startup hopefuls.

Some of those startups are in the prefunding phase, but many are hoping for additional investment after a seed round. They are judged on both their presentations and the fundability of their businesses, with panelists holding up scorecards as hundreds of interested parties look on.

The event is at once telling and baffling in that other than a score, most participants don’t receive feedback unless there are wide variations in the judges’ opinions. In those cases, Jay Trien, VANJ president, usually asks the judges farthest apart in their appraisals for an explanation.

Participants are able to ask the judges about their scores after the event, however. And giving their pitch a try is one way startups can get in front of both the VCs and the angels on the panel and others in the audience.

The VANJ 2013 Spring Entrepreneurs Expo and Elevator Pitch Olympics took place on May 20, 2013, at the Marriott Hanover (Whippany). Two of this year’s winners come from New Jersey, and one is in the digital tech field.

In fact, the second-place winning pitch, for the Lumos Writing Zone by Lumos Learning, (Piscataway) was presented by ninth-grader Vivek Krishnaswamy, who beat many serial entrepreneurs. Lumos has an e-learning and authoring platform used by schools, libraries and parents to supplement classroom learning.

The product helps students generate ideas interactively, expand their stories or essays, review content, collaborate with others and publish a final project. It comes complete with a dashboard so students, parents and teachers can view progress.

The first-place winner was Lloyd Marks of Ridgefield-based MGI Medical, a company formed to commercialize an early-warning patient monitoring device that can detect shock and heart failure in the operating room before there is a drop in blood pressure. The third-place winner, also in the medical field, was Samir Wadke of Thubrikar Aortic Valve, a Norristown, Pa., company.

Some other NJ-based companies pitched and several are covered here:

Black Rocket Productions founder William Zengel talked about Black Rocket GRiD, which NJTechWeekly.com covered here. The product is a cloud-based online platform for students to create video games about academic subjects, designed for any grade, subject or ability level. It engages students, which the company says improves their grades.

CEO Whitney White of Warren-based Chromis Fiberoptics delivered a pitch about his company’s high-performance fiber optics, which have roots at Bell Labs and which the firm wants to move into new markets. Instead of selling the cable as just a component, Chromis is now able to sell complete plug-and-play end units, White said. The company will address the high-end audiovisual market in applications like digital signs. Chromis has also developed a cost-effective, flexible optical cable replacement for copper, he said, for applications copper can’t be used for but at the cost levels it has enjoyed.

InControl Ads (Morristown) founder Don Nelson discussed his company’s platform, which allows consumers to select the online ads they’d like to see. NJTechWeekly.com covered inControl Ads here. The company expects to have a minimum viable product live in July, Nelson said.

Paul Holland,  pitching for  Infinal Technologies, an NJIT Enterprise Development Center (Newark) company, delivered an enthusiastic pitch about the firm’s application, which lets any smartphone become a PC for pennies. “It does this by optically interfacing with a printed picture of a keyboard and [a] touch pad,” said Holland. Code to produce this virtual device can be sent via email in any language, with no manufacturing costs, he said.

Inity In-Store Solutions (Fair Lawn) offers an in-store marketing solution that places programmable digital marketing tablets and tools at the point of selection — the store aisle — in a supermarket. “It’s not until you are standing in the store aisle trying to decide which of 150 kinds of brands to buy” that a consumer makes a decision, presenter Peter Goldman said. The high-definition displays can be programmed remotely for on-the-fly optimization.

Medical Strategic Planning (Lincroft) is a husband-and-wife-owned established company. It has developed a new technology, Triad Dataspace, which presenter Arthur Gasch said fundamentally transforms storage array networks, protecting them from data breaches.

Ted Rosen, New York chair of the metropolitan securities practice for Fox Rothschild, moderated the event.

Addressing the audience, Rosen said, “I want you as founders to have as much information as you can to be successful … I don’t take most of the venture capital clients who come across my desk. What I’m looking for is the same thing these investors are looking for. I am looking for people who understand how to win. By that I mean how to get from the business plan, from an early-stage revenue company, to being a successful company.”

The two-minute pitches made at the Olympics are a good start to the process of preparing an entrepreneur for their future experiences talking to funders as well as lawyers and other professionals, Rosen said. You have to convince your audience, he said, adding: “I treat my potential clients the same way. You have to convince me to represent you to go through this process, because it’s a very difficult process. But you can succeed.”

A future NJTechWeekly.com article will cover the panel discussion at the meeting. ###

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