Entering a pitch competition while running a freshly launched subscription business can seem like a daunting task. This year, more than 100 entrepreneurs were up to the challenge, and only five earned their tickets to the final round.
On Tuesday, Sept. 21, these five contestants will step onto the SubSummit 2021 stage to deliver one last pitch for the 2021 SubSummit Pitch Competition Presented by Pitney Bowes.
Their goal? To win $10,000 in cash and $10,000 in in-kind services that will help them propel their subscription businesses forward.
While the five finalists are hard at work refining their pitches in hopes of claiming the title prize, let’s take a look at all that went into earning their ticket to Dallas to compete in the final round of the event.
Meet the Pitch Competition Finalists
The list of adjectives that can be used to describe this year’s finalists is endless. However, each of these contestants shared strengths and qualities that deserve to be highlighted.
Every single one of the subscription companies you see below is purposeful. Each owner showed a contagious enthusiasm, an undisputed knowledge of their products, and a palpable passion.
Without further ado, in no particular order… Drumroll, please… 🥁 🥁 🥁
Each of these subscription entrepreneurs operates in a different market, offers a different product, and has a different mission. However, their subscription and pitch competition journeys have more in common than you might think.
Entering the Pitch Competition
The 2021 Pitch Competition Presented by Pitney Bowes put a lot of pressure on entrepreneurs who were new to the subscription space. It also gave everyone in the launching phase an opportunity to get significant funding without giving up any equity.
We’re honored to give you an inside look at the journeys our finalists took to get to this point. Let’s meet them, shall we?
June 2021 – Detroit, MI. Rhodes was on her computer, browsing the internet for new ways to improve her subscription company, Black Girl MATHgic. Her research led her to a post she hadd seen before, inviting her to apply to the SubSummit 2021 Pitch Competition. Rhodes felt the excitement taking over her body as she kept reading the criteria required to qualify. This year was her chance to go all the way.
“This is actually my second time applying for the summit pitch competition,” Rhodes explained. “I applied in 2019. I also attended the 2019 summit in New Orleans and I was not selected.”
Since her last attempt at entering the competition, Rhodes and her subscription have made a lot of progress, and earlier this year, she eagerly hit the “Apply” button to show the rest of the subscription community what Black Girl MATHgic was all about.
Now, Rhodes’ company is a few years in the making. Back in 2018, she was struck with an idea that would become the spark to what felt like a lifelong dream.
Rhodes has three passions in this world: Education, math, and research. With the launch of Black Girl MATHgic, she married all three by creating a subscription that aims to “increase math confidence and decrease math anxiety in girls,” Rhodes explained.
“I can’t tell you how many adult women have come up to us at various events and said, ‘Where were you when I was 12?!’ Or they can still remember the teacher’s name, who, unfortunately, drove them away from liking math or made them feel like they weren’t a math person,” she said.
Usually an avid pitch competition and grant applicant, Rhodes says that the SubSummit 2021 Pitch Competition Presented by Pitney Bowes was the very first one she applied to this year. In January, Rhodes explained, she learned that she was expecting her first child, which left her with a lot of questions and worries regarding the business she had just launched.
When she heard that she was selected to be a finalist, Rhodes felt a sense of validation that was unlike anything she ever experienced in the past.
“I won’t get too deep, but it’s kind of symbolic,” she explained. “It’s kind of sentimental for me in a way, and it made me feel like, ‘OK, I can still do this. I can still do both. And I can be a great mom and I can still have the business.’ I don’t necessarily have to choose.”
Now, Rhodes has even bigger plans that involve setting an example for her own child in addition to all the kids Black Girl MATHgic inspires. If she wins the pitch competition, Rhodes plans to expand Black Girl MATHgic’s subscription offerings to provide a box to boys who are struggling with math.
Attending college remotely has its perks… Like enabling you to launch a subscription box company, says Jacob Jordan, who recently graduated from Northwestern University. In May of 2020, Jordan had a lot of time to reflect while attending distance-learning classes. He thought back on a class he took the year prior that touched on socioeconomic inequality and education.
“I learned about the disparity in access to children’s books between more wealthy families and poorer families; and I also learned about the representation gap in children’s books,” Jordan explained. “Two thirds of low-income families have zero books at home — and I wanted to do something about that.”
In June of 2020, Jordan’s desire to make literature widely available for all turned into The Equal Opportunity Book Box. What Jordan didn’t expect, though, is that the market for his subscription box company was craving exactly this kind of product. Not even three weeks after launching, Jordan and his team were out of stock!
All the boxes were sold out a week before sales officially closed for the month, Jordan told us. That’s when he realized his passion project could turn into his full-time job.
A little more than a year later, Jordan competed in SubSummit’s 2021 Pitch Competition Presented by Pitney Bowes. He applied early on to get featured in the event, but did not get the green light to appear in the first round. That’s when uncertainty started settling in.
“I wasn’t sure that I was going to get to the second round,” Jordan said, “but I was pumped to hear that I’d get the chance to pitch. I think I got that email and then I started making some slides immediately and, yeah, I was just juiced up to compete.”
Now, Jordan has his eyes on the prize. If he wins the jackpot, he plans to expand the size of his company and its offerings. The Equal Opportunity Book Box could then reach more age groups and more communities.
Who would have thought that a 14-year-old Alaskan fisherman would grow up to be a finalist in the SubSummit 2021 Pitch Competition Presented by Pitney Bowes?
Wanderaas, Founder of the newly rebranded Alaskan Seafood Guys (formerly Wild Alaskan Seafood Box), did not know he would one day be competing for a prize package valued at $20,000. But in his mind, when an opportunity like that presents itself, you’ve got to go for it, no matter the challenge.
After hearing about the competition through SUBTA, Wanderaas realized that he had everything to win and nothing to lose. Sitting in his Montana office, the subscription entrepreneur submitted his application with a few days to spare and went right back to work.
It wasn’t until he heard that he had been selected to appear in the first round of the competition that reality settled in.
Wanderaas prepared for the first round for close to a full week, studying previous pitches, doing research, and evaluating the judges’ criteria. Listed to appear second in the event, the nerves and excitement started to kick in as he watched the first competitor — Nia-Tayler Clark of BlackLIT — deliver her pitch.
Wanderaas couldn’t help but feel a heavy dose of anxiety creeping in when he noticed Clark’s pitch deck, something he decided to go without for his first competition ever.
“I’m kind of thinking like, ‘Man, everyone’s going to have [pitch decks], maybe I just messed this up,’” Wanderaas recalled. “So I kind of had that second thought of like, ‘Oh man, what am I doing? I’m really just down in my basement office at home and talking to these guys.’”
I remember being taken back by Wanderaas’ unconventional approach. I asked myself, “Is this guy shooting from the hip?”
And yet, Wanderaas’ passion and clarity of purpose persevered, landing him in the top five out of hundreds of applicants.
Now, if he wins the final round, he says he’ll use the funding and support to take the Alaskan Seafood Guys’ staff up to Alaska and interact with local fishermen who are looking to connect with consumers in the lower 48 states. It would also enable the company to create engaging and educational content, something subscribers love, according to Wanderaas.
Scholla didn’t have a slide presentation either (to Wanderaas’ great relief). What Scholla did have, though, was a unique product, a true passion, and several cue cards hidden behind the computer screen.
Sushify came about during the pandemic and, if it wasn’t for Covid-19, it would have never existed, according to the subscription’s founder. Living in New York City in 2020 meant living in your home 24/7 due to heavily enforced quarantine regulations. These restrictions forced a lot of restaurants to close, including the Scholla family’s favorite sushi place.
“I looked for a meal kit that had to do with sushi,” Scholla said. “I thought there would be one out there. I really couldn’t find one. So that’s sort of how the idea got stuck in my head.”
Shipping sushi can be a difficult and risky task — something Scholla learned quickly after launching his unique meal kit service in the summer of 2020. Thankfully, Sushify’s first few customers gave valuable feedback that helped Scholla optimize his business at a quick pace in order to create a great experience for subscribers.
Nearly a year later, Scholla learned about the 2021 Pitch Competition Presented by Pitney Bowes and realized that his company met all of the requirements to be eligible.
“I threw my hat in the ring, not expecting much, and I’m still pleasantly surprised that I’ve reached this far,” he says.
Scholla did not think his company could compete with the other contestants he saw featured in the second round of the competition.
When he received the news that he was moving on to the finals alongside four other contestants, Scholla realized that his concept was approved by people he looked up to, and that meant a great deal to him.
“It’s one thing to kind of get validation from customers and subscribers that sign up and are willing to pay for a box such as ours,” Scholla explained. “It’s a whole entirely different thing to be recognized by, you know, SUBTA. It’s more of a recognition from peers that have done it before.”
Now, Scholla reflects on how quickly Sushify has grown since its launch earlier this year — and he has no plans of slowing down. If he wins the final round of the competition and goes home with the prize, he plans to expand Sushify’s inventory space.
Meet Susan Black, Founder of Wowzitude, a subscription service that helps elderly individuals virtually travel the world through live guided tours. “I have heard that I am super enthusiastic about our subscription service,” she told SUBTA – and we took notice! “It is the most passionate thing I have ever done in a very long and storied career in the travel industry.”
Black says Wowzitude would have never existed had it not been for Covid-19 – something many of the 2021 Pitch Competition finalists have in common. In the short time the company has been operational, the craving for travel has never been greater.
“We knew that older adults really needed to engage with the world,” Black explained. “They needed to engage with one another.”
After launching in January of this year, Black found out about the chance to win the $20,000 prize package through LinkedIn. She felt confident in Wowzitude’s mission and submitted her application to be featured in the first round of the competition.
Once she heard Wowzitude had been accepted, Black began preparing for her very first pitch competition.
“It’s not just about the presentation and the information that’s included,” Black says.
“It’s how you are connecting with the judges and the audience who come. So there are a lot of different factors. I’ve done hundreds of presentations in my career, in the travel industry, in person, at conferences, trade shows, but really, to communicate that effectively with a camera in front of you takes another level of preparation.”
Black’s practice paid off: she was selected to move onto the next round. In addition to making it this far, Wowzitude’s Founder says that SubSummit’s event helped her succeed in several other pitch competitions she’s entered since then.
Now, as travel continues to be a popular desire for people all over the world, Black sees the potential for Wowzitude as endless. If she takes home the big bundle at SubSummit this year, she plans to use the money to create more investment opportunities in terms of distribution and sponsorship partners, which is Wowzitude’s path to growth, according to Black.
One Last Pitch to Win it All at SubSummit 2021
Each of the 2021 finalists has a strong chance of winning this year’s competition. However, while the semi finals were held exclusively via Zoom, this round will be live, in person.
For some, it’s a great opportunity.
“It’s exciting to be able to connect to an audience,” says Black. “It’s one thing when you’re presenting on Zoom and you’re looking at a camera, and you’re basically looking at yourself, your slides. I mean, gee whiz. It’s another thing when you’re up on a podium, when you’ve got a room full of interesting and interested people who are connecting and engaging at that level. It fuels your energy.”
For others, it adds another layer of pressure.
“It’s Zoom times 10,” says Scholla.
For one contestant in particular, the pitch delivery will be determined closer to the event. Rhodes’ pregnancy is as exciting as it is unpredictable. While her daughter is due just a week prior to the event, the Founder of Black Girl MATHgic still says there’s a chance she could be pitching in person if the baby is born earlier than expected.
Simply put, there’s no stopping Rhodes from making the most of her second chance. She’s someone who could very well pitch from the delivery room, in my opinion.
As of now, Rhodes still doesn’t know if she’ll be pitching live or virtually, but one thing is certain: You will hear her voice no matter what happens.
As we gear up for SubSummit, which is just a few short weeks away, the contestants and the judges are preparing. The judges will be evaluating the finalists’ ultimate pitch according to five criteria:
- The business model
- The customer validation
- The execution and design
- The sales and the marketing strategy
- The team
Each of our contestants will undoubtedly study these criteria and tailor their pitches accordingly. They will also bring the same passion, enthusiasm and knowledge we witnessed during the semifinals.
The question is: Who will be able to impress the judges on September 21 to win it all?