Whether it was a plane ride across the globe or a long drive across the highway, 14 semi-finalist teams from all over the world congregated in Newark, Delaware to make their final business pitch for $11,000. Among them were juniors Haley Catton, Isabella Liu, Stash Pomichter and Andrew Yates, representing Elix Incubator.
After numerous rounds of pitching their five minute presentation, the team of four came out on top of University of Delaware’s Diamond Challenge, defeating over 700 teams from 30 countries on April 7.
“[The win] is great validation and empowering knowing that our concept is well-acclaimed. And it feels good to know that all the work we put in both the company and the competition paid off,” said Liu, founder and CEO.
Elix Incubator is a social impact incubator that helps entrepreneurs to launch their business idea. Elix provides their ventures with support like money, mentors and connections.
“Where we like to define a social venture is that it is the middle ground between a full profit business model and a nonprofit business model. Unlike a non-profit [Elix] doesn’t completely run off donations and it can sustain itself and with its profits puts its money back into the company,” said Pomichter, the Chief Financial Officer of Elix.
Since their initial launch, Elix has been raising money for to support their ventures and head cost.
“We have raised about $25,000 in 50 days. I actually think we just made another $20,000 last weekend so that might be $45,000 in less than 50 days,” Liu said.
Created by the University Of Delaware Horn Program in Entrepreneurship in 2012, the Diamond Challenge allows students from all over the world to present their business model for a cash prize.
Elix, launched last August, qualified for Delaware after winning their preliminary round in Danville, California. After putting in around 30 hours of practice and pitching their company five times, they were rewarded the $11,000 after receiving a unanimous vote from the judges. A team from Medina, Ohio came in second, for their app to track volunteering hours.
“It was exhilarating. I actually lost my vision on stage, I couldn’t see out of my left eye as they announced that we had won,” Liu said. “During the pitch itself I think I was speaking a little quickly because I was nervous but the words just rolled off my tongue because we had practiced so many times.”
The win was not just handed to them, however; the team practiced every morning before school for an hour three weeks prior to Delaware, as well as preparing for the Danville pitch.
“It was only a five minute pitch, so if you look at the ratio, that’s six hours of work for every one minute of speaking, which is candidly insane. [The practice] obviously it paid off. Even though our presentation was so well-rehearsed, it still felt exciting and new,” Liu said.
Elix out-pitched teams from all over the world including Africa, Moldova and Thailand.
“There were a lot of different people considering there were people from 15 different countries. A bunch of people with different experiences and different ideas and people to meet,” said Yates, the Chief Operating Officer.
Teams first had to submit a written portion and create a video to be scored. They then had to prepare for a live pitch, and if they placed first, and second in some cases in the primary rounds, groups would move on to be one of the fourteen teams to move onto the semi-final round in Delaware.
“We had to start from scratch to create a pitch deck we felt encapsulated what we do and our story,” said Catton, Chief Marketing Officer.
One of the hardest things for the team was condensing all their information into a concise five minute pitch.
The competition provided more than a cash prize—it allowed the team to develop connections while they were at Delaware.
“I think where we drew the most value from the trip was the people we met, the connections and the relationships we established,” Pomichter said. “A lot of the people, especially the judges there, we secured partnerships with, and the are also potential investors and in the future potential merges.”
The connections didn’t just stem from the judges, but from an unexpected source: the competition. According to Yates, a lot of Elix’s competition in the Diamond Challenge were interested in their program.
“We are looking at the possibility of some of our competition that we could possibly bring them into our program and help them out,” Yates said.
According to Pomichter, he was researching ways Elix Incubator could obtain grants and other beneficial things they could apply for before stumbling upon the Diamond Challenge.
Elix Incubator will put their prize money into their company fund, which will be invested into their ventures and pay for their overhead cost which includes their two offices in both Marin and San Francisco. According to Catton, overhead cost is a low portion of their fund, as they direct the majority of the money for investing in their venture. Money is also allocated to safety nets for struggling ventures.
“From our fund, we seed out money to our ventures as they request it. We cover our overhead cost which include our office base is Ross, website cost, and email cost,” Pomichter said.
According to Liu, she had started working on this idea her freshman year, and had originally designed it to be a pitch competition like the Diamond Challenge but morphed into the current incubator.
“Since then we’ve spent massive amounts of time every week working to make this company run full force, even through full school,” Liu said.