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Thursday, Feb 29, 2024
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Pitch Competition Draws Innovative Crowd of Companies

AgTools, an Irvine-based startup developing supply chain software for the agriculture industry, took home the $50,000 first place prize and the $10,000 audience choice award at this year’s John G. Watson Pitch Competition.

The annual competition is one of San Diego’s largest, offering the opportunity to pitch in front of plethora of investors from San Diego and beyond. Onlookers filled the auditorium in Irwin M. Jacobs Qualcomm Hall on Oct. 29. Startups had two minutes to pitch the audience and a panel of six judges on their businesses.

Irvine-based AgTools provides real-time data on winner fruits, vegetables, nuts and herbs from farmers to grocers. The company says its software can forecast demand and improve delivery times, reducing food waste and increasing profitability

Eyedaptic, a Laguna Beach-based company, won the second-place prize of $10,000. The company is developing augmented reality glasses to help adults with age-related macular degeneration. Local startup 1859 Inc. won the third-place prize of $5,000 for its benchtop lab device, intended to speed up the process of discovering new treatments. 1859 CEO Devon Cayer said the company had started with a focus on testing small molecule drugs.

“We want to create a world where people don’t have to worry about getting sick because they always know there’s a therapeutic available,” he said during his pitch.

The 10 founders that presented on stage will walk away with much more than a check. Many previous Quick Pitch finalists have raised additional funding after participating in the event.

Last year’s winner, NeuraLace Medical, closed a $3.85 million seed round less than a year after competing in Quick Pitch. CEO Shiv Shukla said in a previous interview that his company began getting “some good traction” after the competition, bringing on local investors including health care venture capital fund Teal Ventures, early-stage venture firm FusionX Ventures, and local family office MooDoos investments.

This year’s event was hosted by Tech Coast Angels, Cox Business and Connect with the San Diego Venture Group. Judges included Vanitha Kumar, Qualcomm vice president of software engineering; Marlon Evans, CEO of Nex Cubed; Nancy Hong, managing director at RiverVest Venture Partners; Sanket Merchant, senior associate at PeakSpan Capital; Paul Whitworth, senior vice president of operations for retail solutions at Cox Automotive Inc.; and Caitlin Wege, Tech Coast Angels president elect and a partner with MooDoos Investments.

The full list of finalists includes:

• Agragene: A company using CRISPR technology to modify the genomes of plants and insects to reduce the need for pesticides.

• Agtools Inc.: A supply chain software platform that offers real-time information to farmers, produce buyers and shippers to reduce food waste.

• Eyedaptic: A company developing software for augmented reality glasses that can simulate natural vision for people suffering from vision loss from retinal diseases.

• Jaan Biotherapeutics: A company developing technology that manipulates microRNAs to regenerate heart muscle to treat heart diseases.

• Regenica Biosciences: A biochemical defense startup developing countermeasures to weaponized nerve agents and other potential threats.

• RoomChazer: A startup offering housing listings, with the ability to look up information on roommates and pay rent individually.

• Suavei: A cybersecurity company building tools to find and mitigate security weaknesses in IoT networks.

• Stact: A tool for sports organizers to manage events and registration, and broadcast live scores and rankings.

• The 5th Ingredient: A startup building software tools to help breweries manage inventory and track brewing processes to ensure consistency in each batch of beer.

• 1859 Inc.: A startup building a benchtop instrument to help scientists discover and develop new medicines.

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