Millennial trends prioritizing teamwork and community service are making their impact in how startup competitions judge emerging companies.
The South by Southwest Accelerator Competition, taking place during the annual SXSW Music, Film & Interactive Conference in Austin this week, is a live pitch contest for 48 emerging startup companies in six different categories.
Each company representative gives a two-minute presentation talking about their product or service, their go-to market strategy, and how they’re generating revenue in their industry vertical.
For this year’s contest, 15 of the 48 companies were internationally based. Over the last eight years since the competition launched, 62 percent of the 300-plus participating companies have received funding to the tune of $2.6 billion in total.
“Over 13 percent have been acquired by the likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook, so that’s telling us we’re choosing the right companies,” Chris Valentine, producer of the SXSW Accelerator Competition, told Skift. “They’re fundable.”
With growing mainstream interest in startup culture and more conferences developing their own startup pitch platforms, we sat down with Valentine in Austin to see what trends are emerging in the overall contextual delivery of the presentations.
It turns out there are two shifts in terms of what competition organizers and investors are seeking.
One, they want to get a grasp of more of the team members involved in the company, beyond the founders and co-founders. There’s also a significant interest in companies engaging in community service and civic engagement, which President Obama spoke about during his kick-off keynote this year at SXSW.
“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of people with great ideas, but it’s the ability of the team to execute on that,” said Valentine. “What I’ve seen over the last couple of years, and I heard this also from Tim Draper, the billionaire investor with DFJ, which is probably a top 10 VC firm. He said, ‘Chris, I invest in people, and when I look at companies, what I’m looking at is the entire team.’”
Valentine continued, “If the team is younger, then who are the advisors, the mentors, and the people supporting them? If you don’t have a lot of experience, then you need someone who is experienced who’s whispering in your ear and guiding you down the path.”
Therefore, the six winning startup representatives tended to devote more time in their pitches to explaining who was helping them drive their companies forward.
Corinne Clinch, CEO and co-founder of the Rorus water filtration company, exemplifies the second trend around the rise of startups bringing new technologies to age-old social problems. Rorus won the top spot in the Innovative World Technologies category at the SXSW Accelerator Competition.
While Clinch was finishing her Master’s degree in biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and traveling to countries like South Africa and Haiti, she launched Rorus before graduating in 2014 with a dedicated focus on changing the world.
Don’t tell Clinch that millennials are entitled and lazy.
“I spent the last five years traveling to different countries working on public health and sanitation projects, and the most disappointing thing I found was how many filters and technologies around the world are trying to clean water and how much they were failing in the end users’ hands,” she said at SXSW. “For example, chlorine tablets are often more than 50 percent of the time misused by regular people. So I started Rorus to be able to focus on finding the exact right enabling technologies to purify water to make it as simple as possible for everyone around the entire world to teach people how to filter water.”
To accomplish that, Clinch worked with her partners to develop a water filtration and carrying system integrating new nanotechnology that’s effective and easy to maintain. Rorus received additional support and guidance from the Alphalab Gear hardware accelerator program in Pittsburgh.
“I’ve learned how much business is changing the world day-to-day,” she said. “And if I want to change the world I need to figure out a way to harness a business to do it.”
Valentine says he expects to see more and more startups like Rorus and MUrgency, which took top spot in the SXSW Accelerator Health & Wearables Technology category. MUrgency is dedicated to the 90 percent of the world’s population who don’t have immediate access to 911-like emergency call services.
“We’re always hearing from companies how, ‘I’m building something that’s going to save the world,’ but it’s usually just some kind of community or connectivity software,” Valentine told us. “I mean, let’s be honest, LinkedIn isn’t really saving the world.”
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Photo credit: Corinne Clinch is co-founder and CEO of Rorus, a winner at this year's SXSW Accelerator Competition. Corinne Clinch