Biotech Companies Make a Clean Sweep of TCA Quick Pitch Competition

By Leah Cannon, Ph.D.

Biotech startups outperformed their high-tech rivals to win all three prizes at the 10th annual Tech Coast Angels Quick Pitch Competition. The final of the competition was held on October 6 at Qualcomm Hall in San Diego, giving ten finalists the chance to deliver a two-minute pitch to a packed room of potential investors. A panel of ten judges commented after each pitch but, for the first time, the winners were chosen by the audience in a smart phone poll.

The audience was asked to judge each pitch on five criteria:
Was the presentation clear?
Did you understand the business concept?
Is there a big market?
Will this team be able to execute on their plan?
Has the company already made significant progress?

These are the criteria that seasoned investors use when deciding whether to ask for a second meeting with startup CEOs.

The biotech companies clearly shone – they made up 50 percent of the finalists, yet walked away with all of the prizes. The winner was Echo Laboratories which has developed the first hybrid microscope that works in both an inverted and upright position. The pitch from Eugene Cho, Echo’s CEO, stood out because he had already developed and marketed a product which he showed on stage. His product solves a clear market need, he had beautiful graphics and very clear slides, and he his company has already generated over $1.8 million in sales. The judges agreed – two of them said, “I want one of those.”

Braykion was runner-up with their digital system to monitor handwashing compliance and reduce hospital-acquired infections. Braykion CEO, Jon Wilensky, highlighted the problem he aims to solve by starting and ending his pitch with “275 people died today from preventable hospital-acquired infections.” The judges were impressed and said that Braykion is tackling a huge addressable problem with a big market. One went so far as to say that it seems like a no-brainer market to go after.

PELV-ICE took third place with their MamaStrut product, a pelvic brace with hot and cold packs to treat post-partum injuries and other pelvic disorders. CEO Jill Bigelow received high scores from all the judges. They commented on the fact that PELV-ICE had already achieved significant traction. They have patented their product, it is on the market, being prescribed by doctors, is approved by the FDA and reimbursed by both Medicare and private insurers.

The other two life science companies who presented were Librede, which has developed a genetically engineered yeast platform to manufacture natural compounds including cannabinoids and VOR, which makes a test to identify pathogens in food.

One thing that stood out to me what that seven of the ten finalists already had a product on the market and had achieved significant sales, showing the quality of the San Diego startup scene.