The teams were Freezefare, a site to help travellers lock in flight prices; Geosquish, a social media analytics and consulting program for small businesses; Tripku, a site to connect travel agencies and customers; Cake Health, a site to help people better understand, manage, and utilize their health insurance benefits; and House of Mikko, a recommendation engine to help "like-featured" women find appropriate and quality beauty products.
The Demo Night served as the last event in this summer's Women 2.0 Labs program - the first of its kind. The teams received feedback from a panel of advisors including Julia Hartz, co-founder of Eventbrite, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, CEO of Polyvore, and Theresia Gouw Ranzetta, a VC at Accel Partners.
Despite a lot of questions about their plans, their products, their pivots, everyone agreed that the teams had made amazing progress over the course of the five-week program - both in terms of the products they've developed and the lessons they've learned about founding a startup. And several of the teams intend to continue to work together and develop their ideas.
Five Weeks to Validate an Idea
The participants in the Labs built their companies on Steve Blank's customer-focused, lean startup model, and as such spent a good chunk of their time engaging potential customers in surveys and interviews, making sure that they were building products that people really wanted.
It was this ability to address a particularly powerful emotional pain point for African American women that seemed to win over both the panelists and the audience, as House of Mikko won the majority of "nods" from both the judges and the audience. Co-founder Kimberly Dillon echoed the sentiment of all the participants I talked to last night: the experiences and lessons learned from the Labs have been incredibly valuable. And while panelists at last night's event were all women, Dillon did note that for many of the sessions over the course of the program, she's had to present her ideas in front of a panel of men. Initially, she said, she worried that these male advisors and investors wouldn't "get" why her business was important, why it was meeting an unmet need. But she was able quite successfully to demonstrate that need, reflected in no small part by some phenomenal traction, with over 5000 fans joining the company's Facebook page in a little over a month.
Establishing a Founder History
And hopefully a similar traction can be spread through the tech startup community with the work of this pre-incubator program. As Women 2.0 co-founder Shaherose Charania notes, it is important to help "establish a founder history" among a diverse group of entrepreneurs.