By Alex Hemmer
BU News Service
CAMBRIDGE — On a frosty fall evening in Boston, hundreds from across the city gathered in MIT’s Wong Auditorium to watch 15 students pitch original business ideas aimed at solving a variety of social and consumer challenges, all for the grand prize of $5000 in funding.
The event, which took place on Tuesday evening, marked the university’s 31st annual entrepreneurship competition, MIT $100K. Notable alumni from previous years include multinational companies Akamai and HubSpot.
As each contestant took the stage, a total of 90 seconds was given to pitch to a panel of five judges with extensive experience working with startups, as well as to a live audience of more than 300 people, including fellow students, alumni and others beyond the MIT community. Upon completing the pitch, contestants were also expected to answer any questions posed by the judges, which was also timed.
“I think I was impressed by, first of all, their preparation. It was really, really good. It didn’t seem as rehearsed,” said Jarrett Goetz, a 2006 alumn of the MIT Sloan School of Management, who has attended the event for many years. “The more they prepare for this, the better the experience is going to be for everybody.”
Of the 15 companies that competed for funding, Allda, a sexual wellness platform empowering women to have better sex, was awarded the grand prize. Their pitch, which concluded with a bold declaration for “no more faking,” earned several loud cheers from the audience.
“Sometimes the judges pick something more technical, more MIT-ish,” Goetz said, describing how, in previous years, the competition tended to promote companies with a more scientific base that aligned with MIT’s reputation. “You see some preference on occasion to those things and I don’t think I saw any of that. There was a fairly decent mix of types of companies in the running.”
Aside from the grand prize, contestants were also in the running for an Audience Choice Award worth $2000 in funding. After all 15 pitches had been given, members of the audience were invited to log on from their smartphones to cast votes for their favorite business pitch. Bachelor and bachelorette party-planning platform Last Weekend took home the award.
Other pitches included that of GigFin, a financial wellness service catered to underpaid rideshare and food delivery workers in India, as well as ONA, an AR technology company helping young consumers make ethically-driven purchases.
Despite not winning the funding she competed for, ONA founder Brittny Chong was grateful for the experience she gained and remained confident in the value of her business idea.
“It was a lot of fun. It’s good to push myself out,” Chong said. She originally had seven ideas in mind. “Just to put yourself out there and to see how people respond to the baseline idea is a really good experience.”
Aditi Chadha, co-founder of GigFin, reflected on the pressure that can come with having to entertain a live audience, crediting the support of her teammates as the reason she was able to remain confident on stage.
“When you come on the stage with camera, light and action, and so many people watching you … you have to be emotionally resilient,” Chadha shared, explaining the pressure that can come with entertaining a live audience. “That [emotional resilience] comes when you have a very strong team supporting you … these people have been standing with me like a rock.
Tuesday evening’s “Pitch” competition is the first of three events that make up the annual MIT $100K, each stage being more challenging than the previous one. The “Accelerate” stage is set to take place in February 2020, while the “Launch” — offering contestants the chance to win $100,000 — will occur in May.