Wharton Women’s Summit 2021 Pitch Competition
Last month Wharton Women in Business (WWIB) held its 22nd Annual Wharton Women’s Summit, which included a pitch competition featuring the most promising women-led Penn startups. With only 2.3% of venture capital funding going to women-led startups, providing a platform for these rapidly-growing businesses is as important as ever.
Selected from over thirty applicants, the five competing startups were judged by Alexa von Tobel of Inspired Capital, Urvashi Barooah of Redpoint Ventures, Suma Reddy of Future Acres, and Jarah Euston of WorkWhile.
Candr, an anonymous dating app, won the $5,000 grand prize while Nouri Mama, a pregnancy and postpartum meal delivery service, took home the runner-up prize of $500. Senegalese-based luxury handbag brand, Anima Iris, won $500 as the audience favorite.
Keep reading for a behind-the-scenes look at each of the five startups!
Irene Liu (WG ’22) and Jennifer Jolorte Doro presented on behalf of Nouri, a ready-to-eat subscription meal program for expecting mothers that pairs Eastern food therapy with Western nutrition. Recognizing that the pregnancy journey in the US is uniquely challenging and stressful, Nouri was founded with the mission of providing meals for each stage of pregnancy, from conception through postpartum care.
New customers undergo a 15-minute consultation before starting a subscription, which offers ready-to-eat meals for each stage of pregnancy: conception, trimester one, trimesters two and three, and postpartum. Since launching its pilot in January in NYC, Nouri has averaged $4k in weekly revenue and 40% in month-over-month growth. 90% of its customers are subscribers and the company saw 85% retention over five weeks. Long term, the company plans to expand to new cities and launch shelf-stable products. While Nouri’s operations will take time to scale, particularly as it expands to new cities, the startup has found a strong niche and experienced durable customer loyalty thus far.
Next up in the competition was Calypso and Sage, an all-natural skincare line for little ones. Founded by Nicolle Lee (Wharton/HKS ’23), Marissa Gross (Sloan ’21), and Jaclyn Markowitz (HBS ’20), the direct-to-consumer startup is launching an EWG-1 rated product line without EU-banned ingredients, gluten, soy, nuts, and dairy. Striving for sustainability, Calypso and Sage only uses natural ingredients and pre-cycled packaging. Initial
products include tear-free shampoo and wash, mineral sunscreen, diaper cream, moisturizer, and stick sunscreen.
Long term, the startup plans to expand to products for mothers (e.g., lactation creams, belly butter, nipple wipes) and children. While it’s a saturated market, Calypso and Sage is aiming to differentiate itself through superior safety standards.
Keep an eye out for when the product line launches for this summer!
Liana Patel (UPenn M&T ’21) presented on behalf of Dormsy, an undergrad startup aiming to simplify the subletting process for students. Recognizing that subletting agreements are difficult to find and even more challenging to enforce, Dormsy is endeavoring to create a structured, secure, and student-centric housing listing program. Students will need to have a verified email to sign up and payments will be processed through Stripe, with a 5% service fee going to Dormsy.
So far, the startup has over 430 users and is targeting NYC, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles because of their large market sizes. Despite its growth so far, the startup could struggle to maintain an ongoing supply of listings and enforcing payments should a subletter defect.
Wilglory Tanjong (WG ’22) pitched her company, Anima Iris, a high-fashion handbag brand that uses sustainable leather and is produced by artisans in Dakar, Senegal. The startup has experienced astronomical growth since its founding a year ago, reaching 31k Instagram followers with minimal advertising spend, earning $40k in monthly revenue, and receiving recognition in Essence, Vogue, and the next season of Issa Rae’s Insecure. Anima Iris has also been approached by Amazon Fashion and Google Shopping and plans to implement a referral program to reduce customer acquisition costs.
Next steps for the fashion company include centralizing operations, hiring more artisans, and expanding its cult-status product line. It seems Anima Iris’ biggest struggle is keeping up with its growing demand.
The final company to pitch was Anna Li’s (WG ’21) Candr, a COVID-19 friendly platform striving to remove visual biases from dating. The startup has gained significant traction in the form of over 3k users, 20 participating MBA programs, and 15k matches with zero marketing spend. Unlike competitors like Hinge, Candr doesn’t want users to delete the
app once they make a connection. It plans to use its higher education focus to foster stronger connections and matches among users. Students receive matches based on photoless profiles and then exchange email messages until they decide to reveal themselves. Guiding questions are provided by relationship coaches and Candr encourages users to evaluate their matches for friendship in addition to romantic connections. The biggest question for Candr is whether users will be willing to continue forgo photos if they struggle to make connections.
Next steps for the winning startup include expanding beyond the MBA community to other graduate schools, monetizing via a freemium model, and launching a Candr Conversations podcast.