Data protection and privacy company Rectify won the top prize of $50,000 Tuesday evening at TechFuel. The pitch competition is San Antonio’s largest, equity-free, three-tiered $100,000 cash-prize pitch competition open to early-stage tech startups.
Launched by Tech Bloc, a San Antonio technology industry advocacy nonprofit, the competition is designed to help emerging tech entrepreneurs launch innovative companies and is funded by Bexar County’s Innovation Fund. During the event, a panel of five judges with venture funding expertise questioned, then selected the $50,000 grand prize winner. The remaining prize money was awarded based on votes from the audience in reaction to the pitches.
Rectify was one of five San Antonio-based finalists out of 57 startups that applied to the pitch competition. Co-founders Melissa Unsell-Smith and Lisa McComb launched Rectify in May 2018, creating an artificial intelligence algorithm to automate the redaction of sensitive data. The company has three provisional patents and plans to apply for a fourth one by the end of this year.
“Winning the $50,000 will enable us to grow our company as we strive to standardize smart, safe data sharing,” Unsell-Smith said. “We’ll be building a sales team to help us bring in more revenue for even more growth.”
CheckUps, an intuitive website and app-based system for judicial court administrators to manage client data, track client locations, and manage compliance, came in second place, winning an award of $20,000.
Train the Mind, provider of mental skills training for athletes, placed in third for a $10,000 prize. Sendspark, a video outreach platform for businesses to record and send personalized videos via email to buyers, received an Honorable Mention award of $7,500. Tuuk, a startup that partners with financial services and insurance companies to distribute their digital experiences, was awarded $2,500 for placing as a finalist.
Originally launched in 2016 as a $50,000 competition, Bexar County’s Innovation Fund funded Tech Fuel in 2019, doubling the prize money. Each fiscal year, the County allocates $1 million in economic incentive funds to foster local job recruitment, talent development competitions, business expansion and technical workforce training for targeted technology-based industries.
Bexar County’s director of economic development Deborah Carter announced at the competition the County’s intention to fund the pitch competition at the same $100,000 level for 2020. The impact of Bexar County’s continued support for Tech Fuel is especially significant for San Antonio’s startup community, as most founders point to the need for more equity-free early-stage funding.
Tech Fuel is open to early-stage companies with an innovative technology-based business, including biotechnology, finance, and clean energy startups across Texas. Eligible companies must have a product or service that is live and on the market, have received less than $1 million in outside funding, produce less than $1.5 million in revenue, and intend to grow their companies primarily in Bexar County.
Of the 57 companies that applied for the pitch competition, about 20% came from outside San Antonio, principally Houston, Dallas, and Austin, TechBloc CEO David Heard said. The intention was to select 25 semi-finalists, but the panel chose 30 “because the quality of applicants was so high,” Heard added.
The at-capacity Carlos Alvarez Studio Theather at the Tobin Center meant many latecomers had to stand along the walls to listen to the pitches. Afterward, many stayed to talk to the finalists and ask follow-up questions.
“Winning this competition will be game-changing for the company, certainly,” Heard said. “However, for all five finalists involved, undergoing this process of honing their pitches is an incredible experience, as these founders learn how to tell their stories in powerful ways. There’s value in that for them and for our ecosystem.”
Featured image is of Rectify co-founders (from left) Melissa Unsell-Smith and Lisa McComb. Photo credit: Startups San Antonio.