With businesses from composting to coding to body positivity, Pittsburgh’s Invest in Her expands in third year

Hear the pitches from female entrepreneurs Downtown on Oct. 19.

Invest In Her founders at the 2016 contest

Invest In Her founders at the 2016 contest

Stephanie Lewis / Courtesy of invest in her
MJ Slaby

Now in its third year, the Invest In Her Pitch Competition is switching it up.

Instead of awarding first, second and third prize, the contest will have two first-place winners— one in products and one in services. And instead of six finalists, there are eight this year.

It’s a change that comes as the all-female business pitch contest evolves and responds to the needs of finalists, judges and community members, said Samantha Hartzman, president of Invest In Her and one of the seven female founders.

It’s all about women in businesses helping other women build their businesses, said Hartzman, adding that she and the other founders take pride in the fact that the contest has been all women from the beginning, creating a comfortable and supportive environment for applicants.

The contest awards grant funds — this year they are $3,000 to each first-place winner. But it’s also about building a network and community, Hartzman said.

“We’re not giving away $10,000 or half a million dollars. What we’re trying to do is build this community of support,” she said, adding it’s about participants saying “someone helped me, I’m going to help you.”

The annual pitch contest is open to the public.

Listen to female entrepreneurs pitch to Invest In Her

Hear eight finalists pitch their businesses to a panel of judges to find the best product company and the best service company in the 2017 Invest In Her Pitch Competition. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. and pitches start at 7:15 p.m. Winners will be announced at the end of the event. Learn more about the finalists.

Where:BNY Mellon Innovation Center at 500 Grant Street (12th Floor), Downtown

When:October 19, 2017 from 6:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

How much:Free

To be an Invest in Her finalist, entrepreneurs must have a business less than three years old. Most finalists are already doing their business in one way or another from having clients to building the needed funds, Hartzman said.

This year’s finalists are:

  • Diane Danforth — Americat Company, specializing in safe and American made products for cats
  • Katherine Schuler — Rolling Pepperoni, selling pepperoni rolls at music and art festivals
  • Theresa Baughman — FizzPop, a pop culture accessory shop that promotes body positivity
  • Debbie Maier Jacknin — Songbird Artistry, a jewelry and accessory store in Lawrenceville
  • Mary Jane McCullough — Global Wordsmiths, a translation and interpretation service
  • Debralyn Woodberry-Shaw — ELIE Circle, training services to help young people who’ve experienced trauma
  • Erica Peterson — Moms Can: Code, an online community for moms learning to code (she’s an Incline Who’s Nexter, by the way)
  • Laura Totin Codori — Worm Return, specializing in vermicompost, worms and composting education

Pittsburgh is known as a tech town with plenty of millennial entrepreneurs, and when Invest In Her started in 2015, the applications were a lot of tech businesses from millennials, Hartzman said. But this year is more diverse, both in types of businesses and age of the women starting them.

That’s part of the reason for the split into two tracks, she said, adding that judges and community members found it difficult to compare a bakery business with one that was more software-focused. The split levels the playing field so that companies are competing against like companies with similar business models.

There are still more ways that Invest In Her, founded by seven women who met through the Coro Pittsburgh’s Women in Leadership program, is working to lower female entrepreneurs’ barriers for entry.

There needs to be more access to funds and more minority representation, Hartzman said, adding there are plenty of minority-owned businesses that don’t get the attention they deserve. Plus, she said there aren’t enough female mentors who are ready and willing to support other women instead of telling them that their plans won’t work.

Passing it on

Given the mentorship goals of Invest In Her, The Incline asked previous winners for their advice to this year’s finalists. Here’s what they had to say:

Lillian Rafson

Founder and CEO of Pack Up + Go, a travel agency that plans surprise 3-day vacations / First place in 2015

Advice: Think about the long-term goal and try to see the company from the user and investor standpoint to stress what’s unique and relevant about it. And be as personal as possible.

Jessica Strong

Founder of Whetstone Workgroup, a co-working space that provides childcare (You might also know her as a co-founder of Flexable and an Incline Who’s Next recipient.) / Second place in 2015

Advice: There’s no such thing as practicing the pitch too much. It should be as natural as possible Remember that your talking about and sharing the thing that you love and are putting all your time and energy into.

Courtney Williamson

CEO and founder of AbiliLife, which created a brace for people with Parkinson’s disease / First place in 2016

Advice: Stories are great, but the serious things need to be in a pitch too. Make sure to include the numbers like costs and market data, it makes the pitch stronger. And make sure to pitch it as a businesses, not a hobby.

Monica Yope

Owner and founder of Pop Craft,  traveling crafting workshops / Third place in 2016

Advice: Focus on key points during the pitch, it doesn’t matter if the words in between aren’t exactly as planned. But “don’t go light on the practicing.” Pitch it over and over until its super comfortable, plus it’s a great exercise in talking about the business to other people.