Skills for the 21st Century

Richmond Startup Wins Lighthouse Labs Pitch-off Contest

Brandefy, a Richmond-based startup that compares brand names with grocery store private labels so customers save money, took home a first-place prize in Lighthouse Labs Pitch-off Contest.

Richmond Startup Wins Lighthouse Labs Pitch-off Contest

Deciding between a trusted brand name or bargain store brand product can feel like one of life’s biggest gambles -- we’ve all been there. But, thanks to Brandefy, shopping just got smarter.

Brandefy, a Richmond-based startup that compares brand names with grocery store private labels so customers save money, took home a first-place prize of $5,000 when audience members voted, through text, for their favorite pitch out of seven innovative ideas. The pitch event is part of the training program offered by Lighthouse Labs, a nationally ranked startup accelerator in Richmond, Virginia that develops entrepreneurs and teaches them how to turn their ideas into a high-growth venture. Capital One, one of Lighthouse Labs’ partners, provided space for the event and awarded the prize money to the winners.

The Brandefy team will use their prize to add to their app a new grocery chain and compare its private label items to brand names. Brandefy will let their users select the grocery chain. On average, Brandefy’s users save $1,000 each year.

Codemoji, a Chicago-based startup that offers online coding curriculum to teach first- through eighth-graders about coding using emojis, was the second-place winner of $3,500. The third-place winner of $2,500 was Tablee, a Richmond-based startup that uses push-of-a-button technology to improve and streamline service in restaurants and hotels.

Accelerating tomorrow’s businesses at 1717

The pitch-off was the culminating event of Lighthouse Labs’ 3-month accelerator program. Lighthouse Labs runs the program at 1717 Innovation Center, Capital One’s collaborative workspace for startups, entrepreneurs and community engagement in Richmond. Lighthouse Labs provides each startup with $20,000 seed capital to launch their ideas. The accelerator program is designed to give startups an advantage by providing them with accelerated access to capital, a network and potential customers.

According to more than half of the startups participating in the accelerator program, the process is intense and requires serious dedication.

“It was a whirlwind or a hurricane,” said Meg Pryde, Brandefy’s Founder and CEO. “It was trying, but we met our goals. We’ve hit 5,000 users. Over half of them came when we came to the accelerator.”

Meg didn’t have to brave the “whirlwind” alone; Brandefy is a team of three. James Graham is Brandefy’s Chief Technical Officer and Carolyn Kochard is Chief Operating Officer. Prior to starting Brandefy, James and Meg were students at the University of Virginia and Carolyn was a teacher, who keeps the team on track.

An agreed component of Brandefy’s success came from their access to mentors. To date, more than 30 Capital One associates have provided skill-based expertise to support the startups participating in the accelerator program.

“We’ve had amazing mentors working in 1717,” said Meg.

The 1717 Innovation Center is a recent investment that Capital One has made in Richmond through its Future Edge initiative -- a community initiative providing $150 million in community grants and initiatives over five years to empower more Americans to succeed in our digitally-driven economy.

Seven startups participated in Lighthouse Labs’ 3-month accelerator program.

A diverse cohort solving unique challenges

While Brandefy, Codemoji and Tablee were winners of the pitch-off contest, there were four additional startups that competed and went through the accelerator process with them:

  • EdConnective. Helps schools and districts get more 1-on-1 feedback for teachers. Based in Richmond.
  • EnrichHER Funding. A debt-based investment platform that uses machine learning techniques to unite Founders and Funders who share a vision for sustainable women-led ventures. Based in Atlanta.
  • Quinncia. An Artificial Intelligence-based tool for employers to evaluate the soft skills of applicants pursuing entry-level positions by analyzing their resumes and tailored virtual interviews. Based in Boston.
  • Radify Labs. Rethinks online education from the ground up. They run project-focused online education programs for college students to find post-graduate employment. Based in Richmond.

Hundreds of entrepreneurs from around the country apply to Lighthouse Labs’ highly competitive accelerator program annually, but these companies were the best in class, most with a focus on education.

Being present for the networking, hands-on experience and professional development workshops are critical to successfully completing the program and creating a sustainable business venture. Both Radify Labs and Brandefy relocated to Richmond from Charlottesville, Va. after realizing the wealth of opportunities that both Lighthouse Labs and 1717 offer.

Forging distinct paths

When asked what advice to give other entrepreneurs tolling over launching a startup, the Richmond-based startups had different takes.

“You don’t need anything to start. We first began with Slack and Google Docs. It wasn’t the best way but we did it, and we made money from it,” said Allison Garrett, Radify Labs’ Director of Community.

Tablee’s Co-Founder, Wendy Jiang, wouldn’t disagree. “Just do it,” she said.

Will Morris, EdConnective CEO, offered up a bit of realism. “It will take three times as long and will cost you twice as much as you think.”

As for first-place Brandefy, their advice was a mix of empirical and impulse. “Always test your theories and assumptions. Take a chance.”

That’s winning advice.

Learn more about Capital One’s 1717 Innovation Center here.