Ultra Light Startups and The Importance of a Strong Pitch



It was a cold Thursday night in New York City, but that didn’t stop a sizeable crowd from coming out to see eight aspiring startups pitch their businesses before a panel of seasoned investors. The prize? A valuable package of startup essentials, including interviews with top NYC accelerators and incubators like DreamIt Ventures and Techstars, a $1000 Amazon Web Services credit, a month of co-working space with the NYU Poly Incubator, and more.

The evening’s host, Ultra Light Startups, appeased the crowd with rows of pizza boxes and an intermission drink special provided by Thirstie, an on-demand local liquor delivery service. Each startup was allotted two minutes for their pitch, followed by four minutes of Q&A and an opportunity for the panel to provide actionable advice. At the end of the night, the crowd picked the Top 3 startups (and their favorite panelist) through live voting.

3rd Place: SeatAdvance, “Upgrades For All.” Presented by Benjamin Bergsma, this startup stood out by laying down a winning pitch. The problem?  40-50% of premium economy seats go unfilled on flights. The solution? A last-minute mobile auction platform for seat upgrades. The revenue? A share of the gains airlines receive on each upgrade. Every startup needs to make these things clear when pitching: what’s the problem, what’s the solution, and where’s the money. Bergsma knocked it out of the park.

The main problem identified by the judges came from Josh Guttman of Softbank Capital. He saw the possibility of airlines, seeing the profitability aspect, moving into the service themselves.  Still, the pitch execution and the market advantage of being one of the first providers of the service earned SeatAdvance a top spot.

2nd Place: Bonus.ly, “Micro-bonuses made simple.” Giving out bonuses is hard business for companies. Too often, the people actually handing out bonuses do not have a real sense of the day-to-day work that employees do. With Bonus.ly, presenter Raphael Crawford-Mark wants employees to be able to give live feedback and awards for tasks workers accomplish that align with the core values of a given business.  In other words, it’s a bottom-up approach to giving out bonuses.

The panel did raise a sobering point. KJ Singh of Techstars NYC asked whether a bottom-up plan could be effective for bonuses. While the higher-ups do not necessarily know what the workforce is up to, it is unclear whether co-workers would be fair and accurate judges—especially when it comes to bonuses.

1st Place: AbbeyPost, “Your plus size marketplace and community.” Taking the grand prize was Cynthia Schames’ AbbeyPost, an ecommerce site looking to solve the problem of availability of fashion-forward clothing for plus-size women. It works through an algorithm that takes in images that women upload via webcam and translates them into measurements. The site then recommends available clothing based on that data.

The judges were almost universally positive about the product. Jeffrey Finkle of ARC Angel Fund suggested thinking in the long term about starting a dedicated brand of clothing, while Adam Rothenberg of BoxGroup focused on the efficiency of AbbeyPost’s return policy (Schames compared AbbeyPost’s to the high standard of Zappos). In the end, AbbeyPost outperformed the competition by combining innovative technology, a clear revenue stream, and a relatable problem to be solved.

Image credit: CC by @CynthiaSchames

About the author: James Velasquez

James Velasquez is a writer and journalist working in New York City. He previously worked as a policy researcher in Washington, DC.

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