Celebrating women’s history month with a women’s entrepreneur forum.
By Ayori Z. Selassie (Co-Founder & Director, Pitch Mixer)

How many times have you attended an entrepreneur focused event and felt drained afterwards? If you live in the East Bay you’re even more used to feeling drained, not only for the effort required to impress and introduce yourself to so many strangers, but afterward you probably had to drive across the Bay just to get back home before you had to get back to work in the morning! Doesn’t that sound exhausting? It is!

The great news is Pitch Mixer is not like that! Last night we raised the roof for Women’s History Month with an Entrepreneur Forum featuring all women tech entrepreneur pitches, an all-women judging panel, special guests, and over 300 (male and female) attendees in the audience packing into the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse to make March memorable – not for madness, but for enthusiasm, impactful networking and diversity. Yes, I said “women”, “diversity”, and “tech” in the same sentence and it was a positive statement!

One entrepreneur approached me to thank me for organizing the event, her smile was ear to ear and she made a simple and moving statement – “I’m full”. I can’t remember the last time I went to an entrepreneur event and felt that much contentment. The energy was certainly there, at times it seemed that no one wanted to leave, many were still actively making new connections at 10:30pm on a Wednesday night!

Regarding the controversial 140 check-in’s where all attendees introduce themselves to the room, one attendee said that she liked that everyone had a chance to introduce themselves “even though it took a little while, it is really worth the time.” We find that for attendees, the check-in intros facilitate the meaningful and targeted networking experience that a growing entrepreneur community like the East Bay critically needs adding to the feeling of knowing you’re really in a room FULL of great people.

What About How Pitch Mixer Started?

Five months ago when I woke up in the morning and registered the Pitch Mixer domain, I had the idea to help local entrepreneurs learn to better pitch their ideas.

It didn’t take me long to realize that pitching wasn’t a problem, rather finding the right community in which to develop your idea, product, team, vision and iterate was the main pain point – when the right community is in place the hurdles to connect with the right people are reduced and your vision is that much more attainable.

While pondering this problem and solutions I realized that many in the East Bay communities of Oakland and Berkeley had a disadvantage in connecting with the right people, especially if you don’t have a prestigious educational background or didn’t fit “the pattern” of success, whether it be due to your gender, ethnicity, culture or something else. I knew that Pitch Mixer would be a solution.

In January I bumped into Kalimah Priforce and after some passionate discussions we chartered to work together to make Pitch Mixer the community that would spark inspiration, camaraderie, be open and offer a quality and consistent feel for local entrepreneurs. We set a target to launch our MVP (minimum viable product), an Entrepreneur forum during Black History Month. We locked in, we engaged, we announced that Pitch Mixer had arrived and issued a call to action for the East Bay entrepreneur community to “rise”. The call was heeded.

From that call to action we saw a talented, technical, diverse and often ignored community (who once lacked a forum for engagement) pack once into Oakland’s City Hall and a month later into Freight and Salvage, to introduce a new culture of entrepreneur community engagement that is enthusiastic, open, and diverse. We made it fun again. But why take my word for it? Check out some of the powerful tweets from entrepreneurs were there:

“Awesome #pitchmx night! It was great to introduce @skillshare 2 the Berkeley community. Loved that tonight was geared @ female entrepreneurs” – @dominiquekalata

“Good Lord, there are a lot of entrepreneurs in the eastbay!” – @isaakhayes

“Fun night at #pitchmx in #Berkeley. Really exciting to see my hometown beginning its transformation into a tech/entrepreneur hub!” – @AdamJacobBecker

“Hearing some great pitches and love the momentum in east bay / Berkeley / Oakland entrepreneurship #pitchmx” – @lex3001

“Hearing interesting pitches for Oakland/Berk business at Pitch Mixer-inspiring to see entrepreneurial spirit alive in the East Bay! #pitchmx” – @jasonmcbird

“#pitchmx diversity is a wonderful thing #eastbay #startup @pitchmixer” – @esthercharlene

“@pitchmixer its an environment that is not shark tank rather a family type feel. #pitchmc” – @JoOkafor

Pitch Mixer is fun, yet still focused, we’re all about building community and that community starts with entrepreneurs having a safe place to meet people, share, listen, get feedback (positive and critical) as well as support and boost their momentum to realizing their entrepreneur vision. As we approach April the next Pitch Mixer Entrepreneur Forum will target the EdTech vertical and be hosted in Oakland. We will follow that by a showcase of Latin Entrepreneurs in May and other verticals to follow such as Finance, Health and Beauty, Entertainment, Social Entrepreneurs etc.

Wait! One more call to action! Like us on facebook, follow us on twitter, and register for our mailing list at www.pitchmixer.com so you can have some fun too!

What About the Pitches?

I can’t forget to mention the inspiring entrepreneurs from last night – Thank you to the entrepreneurs for sharing your businesses with us, congratulations to you all and big ups to Taylor (Skillville Games) for being selected as the judges favorite!

  • Esther Charlene, Contest.is – Social marketing suite, hosts rich-media UGC contests, polls & sweepstakes; leveraging Twitter/Facebook social graph; website embeddable; geo-location enabled.
  • Taylor Louie, Skillville Games – Skillville Games is a competitive casual gaming website that provides the tournament platform for players to connect and compete in fun and easy-to-learn casual games for cash and prizes. – Judges Favorite
  • Nancy Chen-Salgado, GroupBookers – Makes it easy to find, research, and book hotel rooms for groups online.
  • Sherbeam Wright, LitHit – Mobile platform for writers, from celebrities to up and coming authors, to build their brands, and market and sell their short-form works.
  • Taja di Leonardi, SnapShops – App that allows users and local businesses to take photos of stuff found in shops to create a window shopping like experience and locally available products that can be shared, browsed and searched.

What About the Special Guests?

Speaking of great people in the room, I should call out our AMAZING panel from last night – Thank you Jennifer, Laura, Christina, Ulili, Sepi. Special shot out to Women 2.0 and Girls in Tech SF.

  • Jennifer P. Toney – Founder and CEO at WeMakeItSafer.com, a company that builds web applications for consumers, manufacturers and retailers around the issues of product safety and recalls.
  • Laura Slezinger – Managing Director of the San Francisco chapter of Girls In Tech, Director of Corporate Development for Girls In Tech and an Intellectual Property & Technology Law Transactional Attorney. Laura worked at the Intellectual Property and Internet Justice Clinic where she advocated for students being sued by the RIAA for alleged illegal downloading of music. She is also actively working with early stage startups in business, technology, intellectual property and privacy law.
  • Christina A. Brodbeck – Co-Founder/CEO of theicebreak, an angel investor, founding team member of YouTube, YouTube’s first UI designer, and Design Lead of YouTube Mobile.
  • Ulili Onovakpuri – an Analyst at Kapor Capital where she supports a portfolio of companies with a focus on women and entrepreneurs of color. She is an IDEAL alumnus, U.C. Berkeley grad.
  • Sumaya Kazi – Founder and CEO of Sumazi, a platform that discovers, recommends and introduces you the people you don’t know, but should. Sumazi was selected from over 1,200 international startups to compete at the prestigious TechCrunch Startup Battlefield where it won the Omidyar Network award for “Startup Most Likely to Change the World”. Sumaya is an internationally recognized innovator, leader, speaker and award-winning entrepreneur.
  • Sepideh Nasiri – Director of All Things Offline at Women 2.0 and is responsible for global partnerships & sponsorships as well as directing and planning events for Women 2.0, an organization aimed at increasing the number of women entrepreneurs and founders in the technology startups.

Follow our entrepreneurs and guests on twitter! They aren’t hard to find!

East Bay Rising.

This post was originally posted at Ayori’s space.

About the guest blogger: Ayori Z. Selassie is Co-Founder and Director at Pitch Mixer, a non-profit organization with a mission to develop a diverse portfolio of successful and funded entrepreneurs and bring geographic diversity to Silicon Valley by highlighting its brightest and bravest. She’s also Co-Founder, Product Strategy & Business Operations Partner at Intuitive Interactive, an educational engagement platform company. She’s also a Product Manager at Salesforce.com and a proud mother. Follow her on Twitter at @iayori.