GIST Catalyst Pitch Competition is About More than Just Winning

6 minutes read time
GIST Catalyst finalists pose for a photo at the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit.
GIST Catalyst finalists pose for a photo at the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

GIST Catalyst Pitch Competition is About More than Just Winning

One Indian entrepreneur, Ajaita Shah, is returning from the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit this year with the title of GIST Catalyst Grand Champion — as well as an incredible prize package.

Shah created Frontier Markets, a startup that empowers women through the distribution of solar products. Shah is taking home a series of prizes totaling more than $150,000 USD in startup resources — but for her and her competitors, the prize packages weren’t the only highlight of the Catalyst competition.

No matter how many times a seasoned entrepreneur has made her pitch, nothing can conquer the pre-pitch nerves, said Kristi Gorinas, founder of Defendables. Based in the United States, Defendables is a self-defense product that houses the strongest form of pepper spray into a small pod that can be discretely hidden on your clothing. Gorinas said her product can help women all over the world protect themselves. So when the opportunity to compete in the GIST Catalyst pitch competition presented itself, she jumped on it.

“My goal is to bring the product to people’s attention, [and] hopefully have some collaboration with different governments so we can get it out to people in need,” Gorinas said. “My product can really help globally.”

Gorinas placed second during one of the pitch sessions, and because of the work her startup does to support women, she won $20,000 USD worth of Google Cloud credits.

Created by the Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Initiative, GIST Catalyst was a chance for founders all over the world to showcase their startups on a global stage and elevate their pitch.

Through expert judges, internal reviews and a global public vote, 24 startups from 10 different countries made it to the live semifinals at the GES. Those startups then competed throughout four pitch sessions, one for each focus industry at the summit, which were Healthcare and Life Sciences, Digital Economy and Financial Technology, Energy and Infrastructure, and Media and Entertainment. One finalist was picked from each sessions to compete in a final pitch session after which judges picked the Grand Champion.

Elizabeth Gore, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Dell and Chairman of the Board of Alice, sat on the GIST Catalyst panel of judges. She said the startups were so good, the judges had a hard time making their decision. Frontier Markets’ emphasis on empowering women shone in the final judging and Shah was named the Grand Champion. As shah walked across the stage to accept her new title, Gore embraced her and commended her commitment to helping women.

As the Grand Champion, Shah will receive $50,000 USD in Amazon Web Services credits; a Dell laptop computer; admission to the 2018 Circular Summit from Alice; an exclusive virtual mentoring session with an Amazon Executive; $100,000 USD in Google Cloud credits; an interview for Inc. Magazine by Elizabeth Gore; admission to the 2018 Circular Board Accelerator cohort from Alice; and will be designated the Cognizant “Genesis Award” Winner and receive $2,000 USD in cash, courtesy of Cognizant. A full list of winners and prizes can be found here.

“This was the most incredible experience,” Shah said. “I feel really appreciative of the GIST process, because prepping us with the webinars, getting us prepared, the team, I think it was just very well done and I don’t think I would have been this comfortable about being a part of this competition if it wasn’t for that.”

Over $400,000 USD in startup resources were handed out to GIST Catalyst finalists and runner-ups. This included the Amazon “Women First” prize, which honored Molly Mores, founder of Mango Materials, for having the startup with highest impact score during the semifinals. She received $50,000 in Amazon Web Services credits, a virtual mentoring session with an Amazon Executive, a Dell laptop computer, and $500 Airbnb travel voucher.

Morse’s company Mango Materials produces a naturally occurring biopolymer from methane that can compete with oil-based plastics and materials such as polyester.

Shah and Morse’s experience are not unique. Several other competitors echoed her sentiment, pointing to experiences created by the GIST Catalyst competition that ended up being just as important as winning.

Nuraizah Bahrain from Malaysia created Zoogleland, an interactive mobile app for zoos in Malaysia that works to improve visitor experience and increase engagement with zoo animals. She said her motivation to compete included a desire to get facetime with other entrepreneurs and investors.

“I hope there will be people in the crowd who are interested in becoming our partners because we are here mainly to look for partners who can help us roll out in different countries,” said Nuraizah.

During the GES, Nuraizah said she ran into an entrepreneur from Fiji who is starting a petting zoo. She said it was the type of connection her startup needs and one she would not have been able to make had she not competed in GIST Catalyst.

Shah, Gorinas, and Nuraizah are just a snapshot of the 24 semifinalists who competed. Each had stories of success and victories large and small, directly from or in part because of the GIST Catalyst competition. Whether it was exposure to the press or being noticed by an investor, these entrepreneurs show that winning is all about perspective — although winning over $150,000 USD in startup resources certainly makes a sweet victory.

About the author: Tomás Harmon serves as a Marketing and Communications Associate for the Global Entrepreneurship Network, a partner organization for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

Editor's Note: This entry is also published in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.