After a week of product run-throughs, practice pitches, and dozens of scripts it was time to compete in the local qualifier for the global Get in the Ring Pitch Competition. The winner of the competition wins a trip to Singapore to represent Colorado and the USA on a global scale. The company being pitched was Tejon Technologies Inc, a database startup that is disrupting the custom database industry with their product TejonDB. In short (nontechnical people stay with us), their product takes the reliability of SQL databases combines that with the flexibility and flare of no SQL graph/visual databases into their codeless custom database configuration studio. Think of it like Squarespace for databases bringing accessibility to custom databases for small and midsize companies by lowering the cost and time of development. Heading into the competition co-founders Paul Nielsen and Samuel Elliott understood how complex their product was and how it may not be a good fit for a flashy pitch competition.
Paul and Samuel are not new to pitch competitions and their formats. Both have been board members of the Colorado Springs non-profit Peak Startup that host programs, events, and provides resources to grow the local startup ecosystem. But this pitch competition was different. Rather than the same old one, five, or ten-minute venture style pitch the competition was formatted like a boxing match with different rounds where competitors face off head to head only allowing one team to advance. The five rounds followed the same format 1) Introduction 2) Team 3) Accomplishments 4) Business Model 5) Freestyle. Rounds one and five are one minute while rounds two, three, and four are only 30 seconds. All rounds must be completed without slides or visuals. Physical props were the only thing teams were allowed to have on stage.
With this kind of format, teams need to be precise in their word selection and make their businesses devilishly easy to understand. Paul and Samuel were pleased with the progress they made on their pitch heading into the competition. They started with a pitch that left people confused and were able to simplify it to relatable material even self proclaimed database dummies could understand. At first, there were ten qualifying teams which were narrowed down to five teams following audience polling after each matchup. Yes, the audience got to decide which companies moved on. How cool is that?! The five teams pitched again to the judges why they should move on and win the trip to represent Colorado and the USA in the global competition. A handful of Colorado Springs startups were among the final five, but it came down to two companies. Shop Immigration, a San Diego-based company that has an online platform that connects people wanting to immigrate to America with immigration lawyers, and Tejon Tech. And the winner is….
Tejon Tech. Paul and Samuel couldn’t believe it. They were heading to Singapore.
The trip fell at an interesting time for the duo. Paul had just finished programming for version 1.0 of the product with a lot of work to be done with beta testers, and Samuel was in the midst of final exams leading up to graduating from UCCS while also holding the office of Student Body President.
Two weeks later they were off to Singapore to meet with over 150 entrepreneurs and 60 startups from all different countries spanning five continents. Upon arriving in Singapore, they were blown away by two things, the well connected, immaculate, hilariously advertised subway system and gorgeous architecture of the skyscrapers.
Paul (left) Rafael (center) and Samuel (right) Rafael was the first VC the Tejon Tech team met while on their journey. Rafael gave insight on what his firm looks for within a startup, how it is unique, and what qualities other firms look for. Over nearly an hour of conversation, the three discussed the industry, business models, and go to market strategies. Rafael models the qualities of an investor who brings “smart money.”
The opening remarks of the three-day competition were electric. Last year’s winner Eric Ju Yoon Kim founder of Dot, a smartwatch company that creates smart watches for blind people, shared his experience after winning. “You have to be awake 24/7 following the competition,” he said. “We had every media website you can imagine reaching out to us asking for interviews.”
Some of the startups at the competition included Freshstrips, a company that created label stickers for food products that changed color if the product was exposed to extreme heat, Edupass, which helps students get into the university of their dreams through their network of over 100 experts and a 96% success rate, companies in VR, healthcare, and more.
To qualify, all participants were split into three categories lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight based on how much funding the company has received. Teams then gave preliminary three-minute pitches to a panel of judges followed by 9 minutes of Q & A. This process was repeated to two different rooms of judges for every team. The first preliminary pitch was tough for Tejon Tech. The judges understood the concept of the product but had a hard time wrapping their head around the problems with building custom databases for small to midsize companies. The second preliminary pitch went well. One of the judges was a Managing Director of an international hosting company who was just as excited about the product as the team was. Even he didn’t have direct database experience, so, although he was excited for us, our value proposition wasn’t nearly as exciting as addressing health issues or getting underprivileged kids into college. That night the six teams that would compete head to head in the final event were announced. Tejon Tech name was not called, but Paul and Sam didn’t leave let down.
Bootstrapping the company up until this point, Paul and Sam were hoping to get out of the conference new relationships with investors. They got just that. On the last day of the competition, each startup had three scheduled meetings with potential corporate partners, advisors, and investors. Tejon Tech finished the last day with over ten meetings including meetings with VC firms, Ernst & Young, and Microsoft one of the companies Paul and Sam hope to be acquired by in the next couple years.
Throughout the competition the startup duo carried one of Paul’s books around for credibility. The books is the Amazon Best seller Microsoft SQL Server Bible. It instantly impressed every VC when they asked what industry experience we had and made us a lot of friends who were either impressed or thought Paul was crazy for writing multiple 1,600 page books.
The Tejon Tech duo left Singapore feeling as if they received six months worth of startup coaching and experience. Over the three days they were there, they learned from experts on how to pitch, pitched their company over 50 times formally and informally, learned what investors liked about their company, learned what investors would like to see more from the company, and made connections with world-changing startups from across the globe. Throughout the whole conference, they championed their home city of Colorado Springs inviting all of the companies to visit and experience the beauty of Pikes Peak and the city they love. Tejon Tech is often asked why they named their company Tejon Technologies. They say, “We are named Tejon Tech because Tejon St is the heart of our city. Our office is at Epicentral Coworking on Tejon, we eat at Poor Richards on Tejon, and even take thinking walks in Acacia Park on Tejon. We love our city and are here to stay.”
See a few more photos from the trip below.