Pitch to Win, Nationwide's competition for small-business owners that offers a chance to win grant funds to grow their companies, was held in 2019 and early 2020 to help small businesses access much-needed funding. The finalists and winners all showed innovative thinking and creativity as they continue to thrive in the industry. Let’s meet the winners.
Alerje focuses on improving the lives of allergy sufferers. Founder Javier Evelyn, a lifelong food allergy sufferer, is working to solve the problem of patients and caregivers failing to carry their EpiPens (EAIs). Alerje’s Internet of Things phone case holds a slim EAI that, when removed, alerts 911, parents and caregivers of a possible emergency.
Since winning Pitch to Win in March 2020, the company recently took a top prize at Detroit Demo Day, an annual pitch competition for entrepreneurs in Detroit. This summer, Alerje was honored by the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund and was accepted into StartUp Health, a leading digital health company focusing on health innovations.
2019 Winner ActivArmor
Since winning Pitch to Win in October 2019, Diana Hall’s business ActivArmor has grown and pivoted to meet emerging market needs.
In 2019, Diana was one of seven small-business owners invited to Nationwide’s corporate offices in Columbus, Ohio, to pitch their business to a panel of judges. Her pitch of ActivArmor, the first commercially available 3D-printed casting and splinting company in the U.S. marketplace, impressed the judges. Diana was named the grand prize winner and was awarded with $100,000 to grow ActivArmor.
Nationwide's contributions helped ActivArmor fill the gap between the seed funding and angel investor phase of her business. "Winning really helped me get over the hump of becoming profitable," Diana said.
While COVID-19 slowed the process of opening clinics, and the subsequent cancellations of sporting events impacted demand for casts and splints, Diana was able to pivot into producing masks for health care workers, the airline industry and the general public. ActivArmor's immobilization devices are hygienic, waterproof, breathable and custom designed to fit each patient. Diana applied the technology she uses in creating 3D-printed casts and splints to develop and produce masks that are customized to perfectly fit each user’s face. Each mask is transparent, so the user's facial expressions are visible. "ActivArmor is known for its core competency, which is 3D-printed exoskeletons that can be created to fit perfectly due to body mapping," Diana said.
ActivArmor's ability to be agile allowed the company to pivot quickly to supply the increasing demand for custom-fit, reusable masks; the company was supplied with a list of problems to solve and requirements to meet. ActivArmor got to work building and testing masks, and was able to quickly shift as new requirements came in. "It was really cool to be a small company, because I could pivot quickly," Diana said.
Second-Place Honoree Buckle Me Baby Coats sells cutting-edge, adorable children’s coats that were created for safer and easier car seat use. Through its innovative design, the New Hampshire company strives to adhere to expert recommendations while avoiding parking lot meltdowns.
In 2020, the company appeared on "Shark Tank" and was named a top 10 finalist in Harmon Brothers’ #PoopToGoldGiveaway, a competition created to support business owners in crappy situations.
Third-Place Honoree TITAN Mixer Bottle is a no-battery, no-shake mixer bottle that efficiently creates a smooth and consistent protein shake. Designed in Ohio by twins Fred and Gered Bowman, the bottle contains 8 ounces of on-the-go supplement storage, can hold 20 ounces of water, and easily separates for cleaning.
Since the Pitch to Win competition, the company has partnered with GNC, making the mixer bottle available online and in stores. During the COVID-19 shutdown in March 2020, Gered was featured on SportsCenter for his invisible plank skills.
Boolean Girl Tech, located in Virginia, helps girls explore their interests in technology through meaningful, hands-on, STEM-focused play. Their Boolean Box includes a build-it-yourself computer engineering kit, enabling kids to code, build, invent and animate.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company transitioned to online learning in 2020 by changing lesson plans, adapting new tools and retraining staff. Boolean Girl also began offering free hourlong online learning coding events to keep kids engaged in STEM activities. Boolean Girl Tech also regularly holds virtual mentoring events as part of the Ambassador program.
National seal-of-approval program Hot Diggity Awards selected the Boolean Box DIY computer kit as a 2020 award winner.
Cloud 9 Griptape, an Indiana-based company, creates skateboard grip tape with unique and colorful graphics. While traditional plain black grip tape can limit how skateboarders show their individuality, Cloud 9’s designs enable them to express themselves and stand out.
In 2020, the company produced How to Skateboard resources, which feature steps that adults (or anyone) can take to learn how to skateboard. "The global pandemic gives you a chance to learn new things from home," said founder Kyle Ayling.
CurlMix produces a hair care line for women with curly hair, providing a four-step, nontoxic system to help them feel beautiful and confident. The Illinois company manufactures and uses their own organic flaxseed gel to help create a "wash and go" style for curls.
CurlMix products were named one of Oprah's Favorite Things 2020.
Sonavi Labs, located in Maryland, creates artificial-intelligence-enabled digital stethoscopes and software that can analyze body sounds and diagnose disease independent of a doctor. The company aims to enhance health care provider capabilities, transform the patient experience and save lives.
Since the Pitch to Win competition, the company's noise-canceling stethoscope hardware gained FDA approval, which is a key milestone for a medtech company
Ellington West, CEO and founder of Sonavi Labs, was named one of the Baltimore Sun's 25 Women to Watch 2020: Best in advocacy, business and health.
Earlier in 2020, the company was named an SXSW Pitch AI & Robotics finalist and also won the Innov8 Talks pitch competition at the Arab Health conference in Dubai.
Looking forward to the future
Nationwide celebrates the success, ingenuity and drive of the 2019 and 2020 Pitch to Win award winners, runners-up and finalists. We expect great things from these business owners and their employees in the future.