Workwear for women. Sustainable spirits. Tools for podcasters, car insurance, major life events. An arousing chatbot. A creative intellectual property platform. And underwear for all sizes.
The business ideas ran the gamut Thursday evening at a Demo Night pitch event for Ready Set Raise, an accelerator program for early-stage women-led startups run by Seattle-based Female Founders Alliance.
Eight founders from across the country spent the past six weeks perfecting their pitches and getting feedback on what it takes to grow a company. To participate in the program, each startup needed a female or non-binary CEO. Accepted founders beat out nearly 400 other applicants for Ready Set Raise, which made its debut last year.
The program is designed to help women land funding in an environment that saw 2.3 percent of venture capital dollars go to women-founded startups last year. Aspects such as remote participation and free childcare for a week were designed to make it easier for a female founder to participate in an accelerator.
As Beyonce’s women empowerment hit song Run the World played on the loudspeakers — “Who run the world? Girls!” — FFA founder Leslie Feinzaig took the stage following the pitches at the Pacific Science Center.
Feinzaig recalled female trailblazers such as Madam C.J. Walker, the wealthiest self-made woman in America at the time of her death in 1919, and Katharine Graham, the second female publisher of a major newspaper who led the Washington Post for more than two decades.
“My whole life I’ve looked up to women like them — pioneers, women who accomplish the unthinkable,” Feinzaig said. “These accomplishments are still happening everyday.”
She added: “These things that were unthinkable are starting to just be unlikely — and really soon they are going to be inevitable.”
FFA initially started as a private Facebook group of women who wanted to help support female founders and entrepreneurs. It now has a community of more than 1,000 founders, investors, partners, and supporters across North America since launching in 2017. Powered by a 6-person team, FFA has also inked partnerships with groups such as Microsoft for Startups, WeWork Labs, and Bellevue, Wash.-based venture capital firm Trilogy Equity Partners.
The organization is a social purpose corporation, a type of profit corporation the state of Washington created in 2012, and is funded primarily through corporate partners.
FFA doesn’t take equity from companies participating in the program. However, it asks startups to grant pro rata rights: the opportunity to invest up to $200,000 in a future round, at a 20 percent discount from the lead investor’s terms in the round.
This past January, FFA raised an undisclosed investment from a group of backers that includes Seattle-area angel investors such as Sarah Imbach and Dennis Joyce.
Other similar Seattle-area initiatives include Microsoft’s Female Founders Competition, which just launched its second annual program this week with support from Melinda Gates and Silicon Valley VC firm Mayfield.
Read on to learn more about the Ready Set Raise companies that pitched. Startups are listed in order of when they appeared on stage.
Juicebox (San Francisco)
“Modernizing erotica with a chatbot that is arousing AND educational”
Juicebox wants to create a new model for sex education and intimacy by using professional coaches and an SMS-based chatbot. The company aims to ride the trend of sex and dating moving online. Its service is growing 5 percent week-over-week and has 41,000 users with a 30-day retention rate north of 70 percent. Juicebox plans to make money via monthly subscriptions and a pay-per-experience model. “We’re building the Calm for sexual wellness,” said Juicebox CEO Brianna Rader, likening her product to the popular sleep and meditation app.
Tougher (Eugene, Ore.)
“Functional, well-fitting workwear for women in the skilled trades”
Tougher’s mission is to “outfit women in gear as tough as they are,” said CEO Stacey Gose, an Iowa native and daughter of fifth-generation farmers. The company wants to help women who need workwear, but are forced to buy men’s clothing that can be unsafe and unprofessional. It initially raised $20,000 in six days through a Kickstarter four years ago. In January of last year, Tougher sold out of its first production run of work pants in one month. The startup is targeting the farming and construction industries, with plans to expand its product lineup and reach international customers.
Wheyward Spirit (Eugene, Ore.)
“A sustainable farm-to-flask spirit made from excess whey”
During her time in the natural foods industry, Emily Darchuk saw how much whey was being wasted during the cheese-making process. She’s come up with a way to convert whey into alcohol. The result is a new spirit designed for consumers who care about where their drink came from. “Where some people see whey as waste, we see liquid gold,” Darchuk said. Hundreds of people have tried the spirit, including bartenders. Wheyward Spirit is production ready and has a federal wholesale license to sell its product.
Echo Echo (Oakland, Calif.)
“AI-powered tools for podcasters”
Podcast producers have a problem, and Echo Echo wants to help. The startup is developing AI-powered software that reduces the amount of time it takes to edit podcasts. Its secret sauce is a feature that lets users edit audio and text simultaneously. “Creating high value content is incredibly time consuming and expensive,” said Echo Echo CEO Alina Serebryany. The startup has mapped more than 40 podcaster workflows across production studios, public radio, and streaming services in the past four months.
The Labz (Atlanta, Ga.)
“A collaborative platform that protects and memorializes creative content development in real-time”
Farah Allen‘s pitch started with the hit 2009 song “Blame It” — “blame it on the alcohol” — for a reason. She said there are 30 people who claimed they never received credit or payment for co-writing the track, and as a result there is money still trapped in the court system. “This is called a rights management and intellectual property problem,” Allen said. The Labz has come up with a file storage and collaboration solution to help creators protect their content. The company launched six months ago and has 5,000 user signups, and 1,000 paid licenses.
Honistly (Portland, Ore.)
“A new class of financial instruments to minimize impact of short-term cash needs”
Honistly is “obsessed with reinventing warranties,” said CEO Betsy Tong, and the company is starting with the $17 billion auto warranty market. Tong said the car warranty industry is more antiquated than insurance, with various stakeholders and price mark-ups. The company said it can save customers up to $800 off competing plans. It launched a closed beta four weeks ago and has sold 91 policies, or $309,000 in policy value. Tong put the company in the same category of other startups disrupting traditional financial services such as Lemonade and Jetty.
Panty Drop (Reno, Nev.)
“A personalized intimates shopping experience for women sizes XS-6XL”
Lingerie makers are ignoring plus-sized women and Panty Drop wants to fill the market need. “Our vision is to redefine what sexy looks like and be the place where women of all sizes shop for things that make them feel beautiful,” said Panty Drop CEO Julie Arsenault. The e-commerce company is targeting small cities across the U.S. that may not have a lingerie boutique in their local shopping center. It has served nearly 2,000 customers in the past year — 80 percent make a second purchase within their first three months — and monthly revenues are $16,000.
Give InKind (Tacoma, Wash.)
“Coordinating support through major life events”
When Laura Malcolm and her husband James Kocsis received the heartbreaking news that they lost their first child just before birth, friends and family wanted to provide help. But it wasn’t the easiest process, both for the couple and their supporters. Platforms such as GoFundMe or Meal Train weren’t working well for sending anything other than money or flowers. That inspired Malcolm to launch Give InKind, which aims to change the way people give and receive support. The company has more than 14,000 registered users and landed a $100,000 investment from Trilogy that was announced on stage Thursday.