In an event that spanned nearly every region of the globe, GIST brought to a close its first ever virtual edition of its Catalyst Pitch Competition. In its ongoing goal to highlight and empower both individual innovators and the entrepreneurial ecosystems that support them, GIST selected 25 innovators from the hundreds of prospective participants to pitch their solutions live in front of global audiences. Out of this incredible cohort, 5 proceeded to the finals on 9 November, 2021. With the opportunity to pitch once more, and building off of the mentorship they received through GIST, our winners were announced!
We want to extend an enormous congratulations to our winners, as well as to every one of our contestants along the way. We are proud to elevate each of their innovations, giving them the opportunity to compete for thousands of dollars in mini grants and a chance to showcase their innovative solution to the entire GIST community, including investors. Our grants include awards for 1st Place at $15k, 2nd Place at $12k, and 3rd Place at $10k. We were also proud to disseminate special prizes, including for Outstanding Women Entrepreneurs, with 3 awards totaling to $8400, the Spirit of GIST Awards with 6 awards totaling to $6500, and a People's Choice award, at $1500. Each of these awards represent an opportunity to catalyze their venture and build a lasting solution.
Our first-place winner is Selen Senal, of ALGBIO, representing the European region with her venture from Turkey. Her venture treats industrial wastewater and flue gases with microalgae and produces carbon negative biofuels (biogas, biojet/rocket fuel, bioethanol, biodiesel) and algal bioplastic from these wastes. She describes the mentorship she has received in the competition as invaluable: "Working with our mentor allowed us to really develop our go-to-market strategy, and working on our points of differentiation from our competitors... We paid a lot more attention to these [aspects], thanks to that.” She implemented all that she learned in the Finals, focusing on the unique carbon capture capabilities of her venture. For her, everything she did to win was worth it: "Winning GIST Catalyst allows us to connect with other networks, to start scaling... we are here to build networks, while improving ourselves.”
Selen is also a winner of our Outstanding Women Entrepreneurs award; she went on to describe: Being a woman-entrepreneur in Turkey is really challenging…We have had such a great opportunity here, and winning this award is so meaningful not only for me, but the entire team." Ms. Şenal is not our only incredible woman innovator sharing her work here; she is joined by fellow Outstanding Women Entrepreneurs, who each received awards totaling to $8400; they include award-winners Vira Hovorukha, of Ukraine, whose innovation centers on biotechnology for accelerated treatment of organic waste, and Kemi Olawoye, of the venture Babymigo, from Nigeria. Each of these ventures represent meaningful advances in their respective fields; Babymigo is a platform that provides expert-led health information and hyperlocal childcare services to pregnant and Nursing mothers via SMS (Text), App, and Web portal. Since its inception, Babymigo has served more than 250,000 pregnant mothers and parents, Ms. Hovorukha’s innovation can make incredibly impactful inroads towards solving the challenges of waste pollution, using an innovative granular microbial preparation and bioreactor to treat organic solid and liquid household and agricultural waste directly at the place of their accumulation. The end products of the biotechnology are environmentally friendly compounds such as biofertilizer and purified water. GIST is proud to elevate such pioneering woman-founders, and we are inspired by their continued success.
Our second-place winner is Mark Musinguzi of Hya Bioplastics, Uganda. Mr. Musinguzi was excited to go to the finals to “continue telling our story about what we’re doing at Hya Bioplastics, what we’re building, and the future we envision for eco-packaging on the African continent.” He accomplished exactly that, impressing the judges with his vision and taking home the second-place prize. His venture, Hya Bioplastics, uses cassava starch and pulped fibers from banana pseudo stem to create biobased food packaging. The range of food packaging, including fruit and vegetable trays, takeaway food boxes and disposable plates, is a more cost-competitive alternative to petroleum-based plastic packaging. He describes the Catalyst experience as transformative, stating that “winning Catalyst will propel us to the next components of our expansion plan, working to increase our production line, as well as growing our network; we have built great connections here.”
Our third-place winner is Ayman Sabae of the venture iCheck from Egypt. As a founder who comes from social enterprise, this was the first time he pitched with a strong business component. He explained, “A 90-second pitch is really quite difficult, knowing what really matters and what makes a difference. To be able to test the pitch, be able to make mistakes... Having that mentorship has made Catalyst such a learning experience.” He put that experience towards the Finals, where he continued to share his unique vision for iCheck, a service that integrates technology, management and clinical expertise in a way that bridges the geographical and logistical barriers restricting the provision of eye health appointments from those who need it. The judges were impressed with iCheck's solution, which enables highly specialized investigative ophthalmologists to visualize and operate remote equipment, which can mean access to services that were never accessible beyond central cities in a way that is affordable, safe, and equitable.
The winner of both the Spirit of GIST and People’s Choice awards was finalist Jay Arneil Gajudo, of Galansiyang Inc. in the Philippines.. His venture Galansiyang is a forestry support services startup that aims to help the mining industry speed up the process of mine rehabilitation by providing them with drone and IoT technology to automate forestry, including aerial seeding for reforestation and forest monitoring. On winning, Mr. Gajudo spoke of the transformative effect this might have on some of the most marginalized communities in the Philippines: “This is a great opportunity for us, as the Philippines right now is navigating a very challenging recovery from the pandemic, but also is essential as we renew our supply chain for raw materials and to our island as we fight rapid deforestation. So you're not just helping us, but are helping the people who are doing their job with blood, sweat and tears... to the communities we represent, the marginalized indigenous people we work with... this is an enormous help."
Picking each of these finalists took its own incredible effort, as discerning the best of such an extraordinary cohort was an exceedingly difficult task. Contributing their vision and perspective was a cohort of expert judges who volunteered their time to help select the best of tomorrow’s solutions. They included Melissa Bradley, founder of 1863 Ventures; Josh Mandell, of GIST-partner Halcyon; investment expert Monro Lanier; Sadaf Naz, GIST-alumni and founder of HerGround; and Abi Barrow, founding director of the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center. Guiding the event was emcee Brandon Andrews, whose energy and expertise helped make the competition an exciting success. We want to thank each and every one of the investors, mentors, judges, and staff that made this event possible.
Pulling off an event like this in the era of COVID was challenging, and was only able to come together thanks to the pioneering vision of the leadership of the U.S Department of State. Building on a history of innovation success, Catalyst has helped innovators secure funding for their ventures, collaborate with the U.S. private sector, and build new partnerships throughout its existence. Launched during the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) 2017 in Hyderabad, India and repeated in 2019 at the GES in The Hague, Netherlands, Catalyst has given more than 85 entrepreneurs the opportunity to showcase their scale-ups to high-impact investors, policy makers, and leaders in the U.S. private sector, and compete for generous startup resources. Rethinking this event in a pivot to virtual space, not only to create the safest setting for our founders and community in this time, but also as an opportunity to grow and learn and reach new heights, was the product of great thought-leadership. On navigating the challenges and opportunities of this moment, Alexis Lennon, GIST Program Officer, described:
GIST startups have gone on to generate over $250 million dollars in revenue; we are sure this cohort will build on that success, and we are proud to have each and every one of them as a new member of our extended GIST family. We are grateful for the opportunity to have spent time with them and elevate them in the course of their venture journey, and look forward to the future accomplishments each of them has in store.