Next Generation: We Win Some, We Lose Some

Learn about standing out to potential investors.

In Episode 7 of "This is Small Business: Next Generation," hosts Andrea Marquez and Mitch Gilbert bring you to the thrilling final day of the Rice Business Plan Competition. As anticipation reaches its peak, they reveal the teams that have advanced beyond the semi-finals and emerged as winners. Andrea and Mitch also highlight all the improvements made by each team within this short timeframe and engage in conversations with the teams that won and lost to uncover the invaluable lessons learned and what they plan on doing differently in future pitch competitions. Were they disheartened by the outcome? Relieved that the competition is over? Most importantly, did any of our teams win the grand prize? And remember the 60 second elevator pitches at the start of the competition? – did any of our teams win that? Join Andrea and Mitch as they answer all these questions and offer key takeaways from each team's unique journey and some advice on navigating the challenges of dealing with loss.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Alex: There is no path. And so it's gonna be a kind of somewhat terrifying adventure at every step.

Sloane: I think I could have brought a little bit more energy in the pitch today,

Bilal: I feel happy, you know, for it to be complete now, you know, there's nothing left that I could have done. We gave it our all, so.

[00:00:20] Andrea: Hi, and welcome to “This is Small Business: NEXT Generation” - a miniseries brought to you by Amazon, where we follow 4 student teams behind the scenes throughout the Rice University Business Plan Competition. You’ll hear all about their challenges, hopes, and fears as they prepare to pitch. And by the end of every episode, we’ll be pointing out key takeaways that will help you wherever you are on your business journey. I’m one of your hosts – Andrea Marquez.

[00:00:46] Mitch: And I'm your co-host Mitch Gilbert, co-founder of Oya Femtech Apparel, and ex-Rice business plan, competition competitor, and winner.

[00:00:53] Andrea: We’ve made it to the final day of the Rice Business Plan Competition. Today we’ll be finding out who made it past the semi-finals [00:01:00] and who won the finals, so we’ve got a lot to cover. But first, let's recap what went down so far.

[00:01:09] Mitch: So on the last episode, we found out that DIA and Active Surfaces are gonna go on to compete in the semi-finals and Active Surfaces stumbled upon a high school friend of theirs with a business called Tierra Climate that's also competing in the semi-finals. So a lot of things, and also sadness because not everyone advances to the semifinals.

[00:01:28] Andrea: But Unchained and Outmore Living still have a chance to win the finals because everyone who didn’t make it to the semi-finals gets to compete in a wildcard round. The winner of that round goes on to compete in the finals.

[00:01:42] Mitch: So, Andrea, I know you watched the semi-finals and wild card round pitches. Wanna give us a little rundown on how our teams did?

[00:01:48] Andrea: Of course! One thing that I noticed and that we also talked about in previous episodes is that some of our teams actually showcased their product. Active surfaces did that with their product and one of the judges said that they were impressed when they showed their four inch by four inch square. [00:02:00] And Outmore Living showcased their product as well. Here we are in the room during their pitch. As a reminder, some of the audio is LIVE and on the go in auditoriums or pitch classrooms so excuse some of the audio.

[00:02:16] Alex: I'll direct your attention as Kevin moves over to the left so you guys can see the actual chair. He'll walk you through it. But we set out to design the world's most comfortable outdoor living experience. And the mental model we use is your car seat heaters in premium heated outdoor furniture. So what Kevin's holding there is what we call the power bar. This is a 3D printed prototype.

[00:02:37] Mitch: You have to showcase your product live, especially if it is some sort of physical good, whether that be food, fashion and the case of Active Surfaces, solar panels. I actually see some founders who are very technical. Like their products are like softwares. Sometimes they lose investors because investors don't know what they're talking about. [00:03:00] So the more that you can actually make your solution practical and in their face, the easier it will be for investors to understand where you're coming from. And I would say even if you don't have a physical good, I would say you need to have examples of like your user interface on the screen or like if you have an app, like what does it look like for someone to use your app, because that sets you apart from the competition who may only be an idea. Is there anything else that stood out to you, Andrea?

[00:03:30] Andrea: Yeah, DIA didn't get any comments on their presentation skills, and I noticed that they incorporated a lot of what the judges previously talked about into the presentation like how they plan on getting their product approved by the FDA and how long that process is expected to be. There was still some confusion on the actual product though. Here’s an interaction with one of the judges and Sloane during feedback.

[00:03:55] Judge: So you're selling a service or a device? If you're selling a device, is it reusable or is it a good. It's consumable.

Sloane: This device is reusable. This is a single use strip. For the saliva, [00:04:00] because it's a much larger quantity of sample. For the wearable, we've extended the lifetime of the electrode to about two weeks.

[00:04:10] Mitch: Clear and concise. Okay, and what about Unchained?

[00:04:15] Andrea: Unchained was great, but unfortunately....

[00:04:20] Bilal: We didn't get through our full presentation in time versus yesterday. We actually made it. We got through our full presentation, but we still didn't make it through semifinals. But the feedback that we received from judges this time was good. But we also have to see what, what came into an account of like the point system. So we feel good about what we presented today. We just ran out of our time. So that's, that's, that's the only, I guess, downside. But like we presented, well, we felt like we got our point across.

[00:04:45] Mitch: Sometimes you wanna implement all the feedback you're given, which results in a longer presentation, which might have been the case here, but I think that that longer it going over was more of a symptom of them not having a strong advisor in the first place. So had they were able to meet with an advisor before their pitch, [00:05:00] they would've gotten a lot of the feedback they already had gotten. So it's easier in each round if you can kind of trench the feedback so that way you can really digest it and get it together. That's why before every pitch I did, I would always try and meet with people or former judges in those pitch competitions, or just ask people who were involved to give me feedback.

[00:05:30] Andrea: Yea, having an advisor definitely help as you’ve talked to us about in your own experience. So up next is the moment of truth… we’ll get to hear who made it to the finals. But first a quick message!

[00:05:45] HOST (Andrea): You're listening to This is Small Business Next Generation, brought to you by Amazon. I’m one of your hosts, Andrea Marquez, and along with Mitch Gilbert, we’re introducing you to the world of business plan competitions and learning about how to best pitch your business in a way that attracts investment, in the case of the Rice Business Plan Competition, teams are competing to win up to $350K towards their small business startups.

[00:06:00] Did you know that nearly 60% of products sold in Amazon's store are from independent sellers - most of which are small and medium-sized businesses? If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or an early-stage small business owner, there are many resources that Amazon offers to help you succeed and grow. One of those resources is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. You can strengthen your skills at no cost with live and on demand trainings, Q&As, events, and even find more This is Small Business Next Generation content. If you don’t know where to start, you can take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at

[00:06:50] Andrea: We’re back… now let’s hear who made it to the finals… drumroll please!

[00:07:00] Presenter: The first of the seven companies to present the finals is Tierra Climate.

The second of the companies that will present in the finals is Zaymo.

The third presenter is Sygne Solutions.

So the fourth company that we'll present this afternoon is FluxWorks.

The fifth team is Pathways.

The six team that will present is Boston Quantum.

The final presenter is at Atma Leather.

[00:07:35] Andrea: Okay so...none of our teams made it as the final 7, but fear not, this does not mean our teams can’t win some of the many awards presented during the awards ceremony. And we did hear a familiar name in that list of finalists: Tierra Climate. On our previous episode, we found out that one of the founders of Tierra Climate went to high school with Shiv from Active Surfaces. And getting to talk to both of them was great. Given their background, we wanted to check in with both teams to see how they feel about the results.

[00:08:00] Shiv: We put our best foot forward in the semi, so I'm sad we didn't make it, but I think it's like good note to end on. I think at that point it's just, uh, the balls fall where they fall. But I'm optimistic that we can keep moving forward.

[00:08:16] Khalid: Yeah, definitely disappointed, but excited to keep building.

[00:08:18] Shiv: During the first feedback session, one of the judges came up to us and said, I own commercial buildings. It builds DFW and Houston, and I can't put solar on it today. How can we work together? So I think having people like that, that actually own assets that want to work with us kind of validates our idea and also builds potential future partnerships. So I think that's what I'm excited about, working with people like that.

[00:08:37] Andrea @ RBPC: How do you feel about the finalists? One being someone we know?

[00:08:40] Shiv: I think Tierra Climate for sure deserves to be there. It's nice to see our friends and family make it all the way up.

[00:08:48] Andrea: On our last episode, we introduced you to Jacob Mansfield the CEO and one of the co-founders of Tierra Climate. After finalists were announced, I managed to talk to his co-founder Emma as well.

[00:09:00] Emma: My name's Emma Konet. I'm co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate.

[00:09:00] Andrea @ RBPC: How do you feel right now?

[00:09:02] Emma: We're just really grateful for the opportunity to be here. To be at my home turf representing Rice and honestly, just meeting all these amazing people are so smart and like, so driven and I feel like we've made friends here, so it's been really great to be here.

[00:09:15] Jacob: I felt like kind of a weight has been lifted off. Yeah. I think throughout this whole process we have a fairly esoteric problem and solution. And so I'm glad that it resonated with some people here and hopefully they see the, the gravity of our vision. But I think something that actually Shiv told me a couple days ago was regardless of really the outcome of this, you know, the, the strength of your own business and you know, you know what you're gonna build well beyond this competition regardless of if you're in the finals or whether or not, you don't even make it through the prelims.

[00:09:44] Andrea: That’s a nice moment to have among friends. Next, we checked in with our second semi-finalist: DIA.

[00:09:50] Andrea @ RBPC: What are things that you think you'll be doing differently moving forward?

[00:09:52] Sloane: I think I could have brought a little bit more energy in the pitch today, which is always, you know, something that I can work on whenever pitching. But other than that, we, we have a strong company and I don't, I don't think we need to change all that much other than just, you know, continuing to work.

[00:10:00] Andrea: Even though they didn’t make it to finals, I love hearing the confidence in their vision. We also checked in with Unchained and Outmore Living after finalists were announced. They both participated in the wildcard round where they had to pitch again for a chance to be one of the finalists, but did not make it either. This is Bilal from Unchained.

[00:10:26] Bilal: I feel happy for it to be complete now. There's nothing left that I could have done. So I feel like I, I gave it my all. So like, I feel like I was just waiting for, you know, that final decision and, or the resolution to, you know, to the end of the competition. I'm still hopeful for like, the banquet. Cause I, I was able to connect with a lot of outside people, like venture funds and different things like that, that were really interested in what we were doing. And you know, there's a couple of other prizes that we saw that we qualified for. So we still have high hopes but glad to have competed, participated, and you know, we gave it our all.

[00:11:00] Andrea: And lastly, this is what Alex from Outmore Living had to say. At this point, Kevin was on a flight to Paris to celebrate his honeymoon.

[00:11:05] Alex: We're leaving this feeling like super motivated. We had some really good feedback, some things to think about, we're kind of, not pivoting, but we're moving a couple things that we had further on the roadmap, we're bringing them forward based off of all the feedback we've gotten from everyone. So we have this entire ecosystem of products we want to build, and it's more like reshuffling what we're gonna build when, bringing this forward so that, I mean, that's invaluable. Like, that's that's amazing.

[00:11:35] Andrea @ RBPC: Is there anything that you would've done differently?

[00:11:38] Alex: You can't only look back and like, oh, what could have been? So, no, I don't, Kevin, and I don't have any regrets. I mean, it's, it's honestly been such a great exercise to like force us to really, really, really dig deep and really work out our business plan in a way that wasn't as complete before that. So no, absolutely not. Just the act of preparing for this itself is worth it.

[00:12:00] Andrea: So, a reminder that, just because our teams have been eliminated doesn't mean they're going home with no money. Some teams have the opportunity to win other prizes even if they don’t make it to the final round or win the grand prize, so there’s still hope for our teams. Okay, since we know a little bit about who Tierra Climate is, I think it's only fair that we introduce some of the other finalists. I had a chance to check in with them before they gave their final pitch right outside the auditorium. I had a bit more time with some than others. Here's a quick intro to Zaymo:

[00:12:30] Zaymo: My name's Danny. We do interactive emails for e-commerce stores called Zaymo. Hey, and I am Santi. And I'm Chris. We are stoked. Very, very excited.

Andrea: Next is Pathways:

Leise - Pathways: I'm Leise.

Kritika - Pathways: I'm Kritika,

Alex - Pathways: and I'm Alex.

Leise - Pathways: We're building software for architects and real estate developers that help them reduce the carbon of the materials they use in new constructions and retrofits.

Andrea @ RBPC: How do you feel right now as one of the finalists?

[00:13:00] Kritika - Pathways: Oh, oh, it's overwhelming, but I have confidence in our team and I'm sure that we'll bring it home.

Alex - Pathways: Yeah, it's really exciting. I mean, throughout this weekend, you know, they started at the beginning of it saying, you're gonna get a lot of feedback. It's going to be an opportunity to learn and grow. And I admittedly was like, okay. But it's been kind of crazy over the last 48 hours how our pitch has really evolved to reflect that. And I think we're way stronger than we walked in. And I'm excited to see what we're able to do this afternoon.

Kritika - Pathways: This is my passion and I've been building it for a very long time, researching on the subject for a very long time. I can't wait to get our hands on some amount of money so we can actually implement what our vision is.

Andrea: And next is Sygne Solutions.

Dana - Sygne Solutions: I'm Dana Vazquez, the Chief commercial officer and co-founder at Sygne Solutions where we forever eliminate forever chemicals.

Subash - Sygne Solutions: Subash Kannan, CEO and co-founder of Sygne Solutions We are disruptive, scalable, and serve noble cost. Very investor grade at this point. Honored, happy that the message is resonating through, especially the problem statement, what we are having. So it's a big noble cause. So it's a great disruptive product. So we are honored.

[00:14:00] Andrea: Now let's check in with the Wildcard round winner, Atma Leather.

Jinali Mody - Atma Leather: Hi, I'm Jinali. I'm the founder of Atma Leather. We're a material science company that is creating a plant-based leather alternative from banana crop waste. We feel great. We're very, very excited. We definitely have gone through a lot of ups and downs in the last two days, we didn't make it through to the semis and then we did the wildcard and we got through the wildcard. So it’s been a lot of learning, a lot of feedback, a lot of great people that have helped us get here. So everything's changed since round one, most of our slides, how we pitch, what we pitch, the order of what we do, everything has, has gone through a lot of changes. And so, we're happy to say that the feedback really, really paid off. The future goal is to scale this material, so we're excited to get there.

[00:14:50] Andrea: We're getting so close to figuring out who's winning that grand prize, but first remember when we said that some teams can win awards even if they don't make it to the finals? Well one of our teams was awarded a nice chunk of money. You’re about to hear the moment in the final banquet where they announce it. At this point in time we’re all in a huge room at a hotel where there’s endless of rows of tables full of competitors, judges, investors, organizers, volunteers, and more. This is a presenter from the New York Climate Ventures.

[00:15:20] Presenter: New York Climate Ventures is pleased to be here and, helping with the Rice Business Planning competition with Prize. Uh, we invest in early-stage companies with a focus on decarbonization. There were a number of companies that were deserving of this prize here tonight. And in a world where you're working toward decarbonizing everything and electrifying everything you need all of the above approach. Our winner this year is Active Surfaces from MIT.

[00:15:50] Andrea: Active Surfaces won 25,000 dollars from the New Climate Ventures Sustainable Investment Prize. And that's not all, remember that elevator pitch competition that happened on the first day? [00:16:00] Well, there were separate winners for several categories and there was some good news for Active surfaces there as well.

[00:16:10] Speaker: in the energy of clean tech sustainability category. The winner is active surfaces from MIT.

[00:16:15] Andrea: Sooo that's another 500 dollars from the elevator pitch competition. So they did leave with some money from the competition. And even though our teams didn’t make it to the first three spots, let’s hear who did. In third place, with an award of 50K dollars…

Speaker: So without further ado, the third-place team winner is Zaymo.

Andrea: And the second-place overall winner who gets to leave with 100,000 dollars is...

Speaker: Sygne's Solutions from Rice University.

Andrea: And finally for the grand prize of $350K...

Speaker: The winner of the grand prize is Fluxworks from Texas A&M.

[00:17:00] Bryton Praslicka: My name is Bryton Praslicka PhD as of two days ago. And my business name is FluxWorks. I don't know if for certain we can say that we're the best team with the best technology, but I can say for certain we're the most grateful team. just wanna thank, like, the Lord, thank our mentors and I'm just thrilled I can say that and, um, how we currently feel. It rhymes with schmo, overwhelmed.

[00:17:25] Andrea: WOW. Since I was there in person, I can tell you the energy was wild. People flocking to the winners as if it where the end of the Super Bowl. Mitch, you were a finalist in the past. Do you remember how that felt for you?

[00:17:38] Mitch: I was surprised, but also focused. I had a whole strategy, man. I had an, email chain, people were connected on the email chain. I was emailing my professors and like my advisors and like moving forward every round. So we had a whole team. It was a team effort, so it's probably not a surprise that we advanced to the finals, but at the time I was like, okay, this was a surprise and I felt nice, but then I was like, oh my gosh, I have so much work to do.

[00:18:00] Andrea: And of course, we checked in with our very own Active Surfaces after the awards ceremony since they also won a few prizes tonight.

[00:18:12] Shiv: We came here because we cared about climate change. And winning the one climate associated prize makes me feel that people that care about our sector care about us.

[00:18:22] Richard: Out of all the ones that we won in terms of the sponsored prizes, that's the one that I'm glad we won the most because it's actually a climate venture capital firm validating our technology, right? It hits more from a more validation standpoint of someone who like looks at climate every day, uh, and then it's like, we believe in you and we'll sponsor that. So I'm happy about that, definitely. And, and we actually, out of all the, the sponsored people, we talk to them the most throughout this competition as well. I think we got the most progress for our business in four days than we've had in general, just, just because of the density and the amount of like people who've contributed to like, helping us improve.

[00:19:00] Andrea: And Active Surfaces actually had another pitch competition that they were going to only two days right after the Rice Business Plan Competition was over.

[00:19:08] Shiv: I feel even more ready than I would've been otherwise. All the feedback is helping us polish that deck too.

[00:19:13] Andrea: What a day Mitch, I kinda want to join a pitch competition now because, it looks super stressful, but also very rewarding and even… fun.

[00:19:22] Mitch: Yeah, I would say that to be good at a pitch competition, you need to watch how other competitors competed and the ones that won what they did differently than others. I would also say practice, practice, practice. Practice with people who do not care about your vertical. Practice with people who don't like you. Practice with people who are racist. Practice with people who are sexist. Practice with people who love you. Practice with people who understand your vertical or what the problem that is that you're trying to solve, and then I would say practice with an actual venture capitalist who cares about you, even though you may be underrepresented, and I think that will really help take you to the next level.

[00:20:00] Andrea: That is definitely something important. And we’ve got one more episode left where we’ll be checking in with some of the judges from the competition a few weeks after the competition to dig into why the teams that won, won and why our teams didn’t make it to the finals.

[00:20:16] Mitch: We’ll also check in with our four teams, like what are they up to? How are their businesses doing? I'm so excited to hear all about it.

[00:20:22] Andrea: With that, we’ve been on a long learning journey here, so let’s go through our key takeaways. And even though our teams didn’t place in the top 7, this doesn’t mean we didn’t learn super beneficial lessons that anyone can use on their journey. Like:

  • Mitch: 1. Find the right investor. So, there's a difference between angel investors and venture capital, and both of those groups have different verticals that they invest in and they invest differently. So finding the right investors is super important.
  • Andrea: Two. Be open to judge feedback and try to implement what works and what you can speak to confidently into the presentation, [00:21:00] but also pick and choose wisely or you can run the risk of not finishing on time like Unchained in their final wildcard round.
  • Mitch: Three. If you won, understand why. If you lost, understand why. Look at other pitches, ask questions. Figure out where the weaknesses are and adjust accordingly. Aside from money, that is what these competitions are for, is to really improve your business model. I would also say look for other judges who could help you and explain like how you can improve your pitch.

[00:21:30] Andrea: On the next episode, we’ll be digging into some of the “WHYs” behind the results of our teams. So make sure to give it a listen to get a full view of what you can do to prepare your business.

[00:21:40] Mitch: Sometimes it's about the competition itself and not your business. Like it's really not even personal.

[00:21:45] Andrea: Yea! Like, remember that competition we told you about that Active Surfaces had to go to two days after Rice? Well… they won FIRST PLACE.

[00:21:55] Mitch: Crazy. So keep that in mind that every competition is different. Every judging group is different. And don't get discouraged if you don't win. [00:22:00] But then at the same time, it's okay to get a little angry. Let that fuel burn your fire to do better. This is a very cutthroat audience and I think, again, know who you're pitching to. It's not even getting discouraged or frustrated. It's being intentional about knowing your audience.

[00:22:20] Andrea: We’d love to hear your stories wherever you are in your journey. Whether you're about to start your own business, in the process of it, or maybe even getting ready to pitch your business in a pitch competition. Reach out to us at to tell us what you're up to. Or let me know what you think of the episode by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts – it’s easier if you do it through your phone. And if you liked what you heard -- I hope you'll share us with anyone else who needs to hear this!

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, and I hope you are if you’re listening to This is Small Business. Or maybe you already have your small business up and running and you’re ready for the next step. A super valuable resource that can help you is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. Take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at

This is Small Business: Next Generation is brought to you by Amazon with technical and story production by JAR Audio. I’m one of your hosts, Andrea Marquez –

Mitch: And I'm Mitch Gilbert.

Andrea: Hasta luego and thanks for listening! [00:23:24]


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