For years, Ventura Atlanta has been a proud partner of Launchpad2X — an organization created for the sole purpose of developing and showcasing women entrepreneurs. Launchpad2X, which has worked tirelessly for the last nine years to close the funding gap for female founders, has made notable strides with its Core Flight Program. Graduates have seen 200% growth year-over-year, and 25% of those participants have exceeded the $1M revenue mark. What’s more, 94% are still in business after three years, far exceeding the national average.
As a part of the partnership, Venture Atlanta & Launchpad2X hold an annual pitch showcase for female-led companies with the winner earning an automatic spot to pitch at that year’s Venture Atlanta conference. See past winners here:
- 2018 – Mary-Cathryn Kolb of brrrº
- 2019 – Marilyn Jackson of UnderGrid Networks
- 2020 – Ashlee Ammons & Kerry Schrader of Mixtroz
For this year’s showcase, we did things a little differently. LP2X curated 25 companies over the past five months for their series of First Friday Pitches which was built to inspire female founders to “show up” and get ready themselves for investor pitches. The top candidates were selected for the showcase held virtually on June 16th in front of 75+ viewers. The event was judged by industry experts Kelly Gay of OnBoard, Kim Seals of The JumpFund, and Chad Harris of Panoramic Ventures. The lineup of pitch companies was nothing short of stellar — so stellar, in fact, that not one but four winners were chosen.
Launchpad2X + Venture Atlanta Annual Showcase – 2021 Lineup
- WINNER: Charlotte Molette Barge, President & CEO of ExStreamity – The “Squarespace of streaming platforms” allows anyone with video content to monetize and customize at a lower cost and with shorter lead times.
- WINNER: Kate Atwood, Co-founder & CEO of LoCo+ – As the first video streaming network for premium local content, LoCo+ curates and streams lifestyle, culture, sports, impact, and entertainment content made and produced by local creators.
- WINNER: Sarah Rodehorst, Co-founder & CEO of Onwards HR – This data-driven risk management platform automates terminations and mitigates human capital risk.
- WINNER: Jennifer Sparks, CEO of Vacmobile – A developer of globally scalable solutions designed to securely manage digital immunization and testing records.
- Donesha Gardner, Founder & CEO of Dynamic Elements – Tamper-proof cigarette smoke detectors for rental cars.
- Tamara Lucas, Co-founder & CEO of My Panda – Short for “my personalized assistant next door,” My Panda lets you hire local, community-based assistants to help knock out your to-do list.
- Robyn Grable, Founder & CEO of Veterans ASCEND – An AI-based platform that matches companies with veteran job candidates using an algorithm that translates occupations into skills profiles.
- Kimberly Jolasun, Founder of Villie – A platform that facilitates connections among new and soon-to-be parents and their families.
- Rejoice Jones, Founder of Vower – A marketplace and platform where gig-economy workers can exchange their skills for rewards.
- Parker Wilson, Co-Founder of Zizi – A digital and brick-and-mortar marketplace that allows customers to “shop local” anytime, anywhere.
After the pitch showcase, we sat down with the four winning founders to learn more about why they started their respective businesses, how they’re navigating the startup world, and what they’re looking forward to most at Venture Atlanta 2021.
It takes a lot of guts and grit to make it as an entrepreneur. What was the turning point that took your business from just a dream to a full-blown reality?
Jennifer Sparks, Vacmobile: “When we assembled our team of subject matter experts that took on titles with Vacmobile and started performing their roles using their Vacmobile email! I could see that they believed as passionately as I do about Vacmobile’s mission and their collective desire to see this product commercialized was a big turning point. We are so blessed with an outstanding leadership team.”
Charlotte Molette Barge, ExStreamity: “My co-founder Dennis and I had the perfect complement of skills needed to build our initial prototype. That, combined with borderline obsessive-compulsive personalities, drove us to work obscene hours to bring the product to market. We fed off each other’s energy and desires to learn anything and everything needed to make the product a success. Together, we were a force to be reckoned with. The turning point came when we launched the first streaming network for one of our content creators and the subscriptions started coming in. It was true validation that the market was there and Exstreamity had a bright future.”
What were some challenges that you’ve had to overcome in your journey thus far?
Sarah Rodehorst, Onwards HR: “We knew we didn’t quite fit the mold of what people envision when they think about technology. Women comprise only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and women-owned startups are practically nonexistent. As women in a male-dominated field, it can be challenging sometimes to get our foot in the door and to be taken seriously.”
“Though we have 20+ years of experience developing and launching B2B SaaS products, it has been difficult to prove ourselves at times, largely due to the biases faced by women in business — and, even more specifically — women in technology. We trust in our abilities and our product, and let the success of our company speak to the value we bring.”
Charlotte Molette Barge, ExStreamity: “Early on, most of our challenges were technology-centric issues. We were creating something we had never seen before and while we had a lot of industry knowledge, there were so many things we had to learn. But the most challenging issue turned out to be the pandemic and the closures it caused. When in-person marketing events ceased to exist, we were forced to learn new ways to acquire customers and keep our traction from completely stalling.”
Conversely, what has your experience taught you about your industry, and what do you have to look forward to?
Kate Atwood, LoCo+: “We have an incredible team that brings a unique perspective to the problem we are solving to an industry with large incumbents. The new streaming industry, formerly TV and film, is still very nascent. Here we have one of the largest, most enduring industries in the world in total flux. Systems and infrastructure of the past are not sustainable, ecosystems are failing and product is decentralized. Not in 100 years has there been this type of opportunity to innovate around this powerhouse industry.”
“We see it as fertile ground for disruption. We believe LoCo+ is the most disruptive company to the film and TV industry since Netflix. Why? Because more than an app, we are the infrastructure. We are the roads, bridges, tunnels for content creators and filmmakers to drive their own career, to access premium distribution, without ceding control of their creative and their IP.”
What’s next — any big plans in the works that you can share with us or that we can keep an eye out for?
Jennifer Sparks, Vacmobile: “Vacmobile is moving into Tech Alpharetta! After being in lockdown for a year without a physical office space, this is a very exciting development for us. In addition to being able to hold our leadership team meetings in person, we also look forward to being around the other tech startups in the building. It is clear to us that startups can help one another and there are important mindshare gains and other intangible benefits that Vacmobile will accrue by joining a tech incubator like Tech Alpharetta — especially under the excellent leadership of Karen Cashion!”
Sarah Rodehorst, Onwards HR: “We have two big plans in the works. First, we are patent-pending now since we are the first termination automation platform on the market and expect to be fully patented by the end of the year. Second, we currently target enterprise business, however, we have a few exciting new products that we will be launching this fall that will be applicable to businesses of all sizes. Stay tuned!”
Talk to us a little about your Launchpad2X experience. When did it come on your radar?
Charlotte Molette Barge, ExStreamity: “We discovered Launchpad2X a few months ago and we were excited about the things they were doing to showcase and empower female founders. I felt a sense of solidarity being among the women participating in the First Friday Pitches. It provided an opportunity to not only see their amazing ideas, but also the creative ways they found to promote their companies. This relationship is invaluable to us and we look forward to taking advantage of all of the resources Launchpad2X provides.”
Kate Atwood, LoCo+: “I’ve been following Launchpad2x for a while due to having friends who have gone through the program, reaped the rewards, and raved about the experience. Christy Brown, President of Launchpad2X, brought me into the fold last year as we were building. We were very early but she believed in us. When you know you have a partner on this journey, you keep them close. Launchpad2X — Christy, Bernie, and the team — show up for female entrepreneurs at all stages of the journey, in formal and informal ways. Their knowledge, expertise, and support are invaluable.”
Are you looking forward to pitching at Venture Atlanta? What do you hope to get out of the experience?
Sarah Rodehorst, Onwards HR: “We are grateful that Onwards HR has the opportunity to pitch at Venture Atlanta this year. We actually applied last year and didn’t make the cut, but we worked hard growing our business and are ready to pitch! We look forward to sharing our product, making connections, and hopefully raising capital to grow our vision.”
Kate Atwood, LoCo+: “Venture Atlanta is one of the largest venture conferences in the nation. To secure a spot to pitch is an incredible honor. For LoCo+, it lands at a perfect time for our company’s stage and provides us with critical exposure and networking to connect to the right investment partners for our journey.”
And finally, what advice or words of wisdom do you have for other budding entrepreneurs?
Charlotte Molette Barge, ExStreamity: Having a co-founder who is as knowledgeable, as committed, and most of all, as hard-working, was immensely valuable. We are each other’s support systems on those days when things seem harder and the hurdles seem more insurmountable. We provide a soft place to land for one another at the end of those days. If you can, find yourself such a co-founder and give it 1000% until you see the dream become a reality, and then you can crank it down to 200%. Even if you don’t succeed, it won’t be because you didn’t give it your all.”
Sarah Rodehorst, Onwards HR: “When first starting off, it’s tempting to hold tight to your ideas, but the real growth comes from conversations that help shape your concept into a viable business opportunity. Share your visions, share your product, and get the feedback you need to make your company great. One by one, if you take steps toward ‘better,’ you’ll end up exactly where you should be.”
Jennifer Sparks, Vacmobile: “Don’t give up! Some days will seem very overwhelming. Whenever I need inspiration, I will re-read portions of Howard Schultz’s book, ’Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time.’ One of my favorite sections appears in Chapter 5.”
It’s a classic American tale, every entrepreneur’s dream: to start with a great idea, attract some investors, and build a business that is profitable and sustainable. Trouble is, you usually have to start as the underdog… Being an underdog has a flip side, though, for facing such adversity can be invigorating. In my case, part of me relished the fact that so many people said my plan couldn’t be done. No matter how many times people put me down, I believed strongly that I could pull it off.
About Venture Atlanta 2021
Venture Atlanta 2021 is taking place on October 20-21. Register today to hear pitches from these incredible female-led companies and other top emerging tech companies from across the southeast. Want to put your company on the VA 2021 stage? We are currently accepting applications from companies that are tech-enabled, from the Southeast (Texas to DC), and looking to raise in the next 12-18 months. Apply here before the August 6th deadline.