Yesterday I attended Grace Hopper’s inaugural PitcHer contest. The goal of this pitch competition is to support, encourage, and provide new funding opportunities to women entrepreneurs. The top ten finalist competed for a grand total of $65,000. I was elated to find that the first place prize went to my personal favorite, Shakeia Kegler. Her business idea accompanied by her amazing stage presence sealed the deal! After chatting with her at the end of the event it was clear that she is a brilliant and down to earth woman with much to offer to the startup community. I was lucky enough to get a selfie with her at the end of the event! I’d love to invite her to Startup Milwaukee Week this year or next! Below are bios/business summaries of the winners.
Shakeia Kegler – First Place!
Shakeia Kegler is from Saint Petersburg, Florida, and is the eldest of five girls. After graduating from high school in 2011, she joined the U.S. Navy. While enlisted, she gained experience in purchasing, compliance, and quality assurance while earning a bachelor’s degree in business management and her Lean Six Sigma Certifications.
After her honorable discharge, Shakeia worked as a compliance and contract specialist in the government, contracting department of a pharmaceutical company. Her experience in both the Navy and government led her to found GovLia in 2017. GovLia is a cloud-based platform that simplifies state and local government procurement processes to help increase small business participation in order to foster economic opportunity and growth for diverse companies and communities.
Hannah Meyer – Second Place
As COO of Pie for Providers, Hannah builds tools that aim to measurably and significantly strengthen small childcare businesses and empower the entrepreneurs that operate them. She is committed to not only building a profitable and scalable business, but doing so in a way that leads to better outcomes for women business owners, parents, children, and their communities.
Hannah holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and was awarded the Tarrson Fellowship for social entrepreneurs by the University of Chicago. She was also a Summer Associate at Ashoka in the Social Financial Services Department. Prior to coming to the University of Chicago, Hannah earned an MPPA from Northwestern University.
Charu Sharma – Third Place
Charu Sharma is the Founder & CEO of NextPlay.ai. While working at LinkedIn, Charu started a mentorship program for women at the company as a passion project. This eventually inspired her to start NextPlay and to create meaningful mentorship relationships, especially for women and underrepresented minorities. NextPlay’s investors and advisors include 500 Startups, LinkedIn’s SVP Engineering, Techcrunch’s former CEO, and Microsoft’s former Chief Design Officer.
Companies like Square, Lyft, Asurion, and Splunk use the NextPlay mobile app to build sticky and measurable mentorship programs. After six months of using NextPlay’s app, mentees felt that their preparedness to achieve their goals at their companies had doubled, and mentors reported that they significantly developed their critical leadership and coaching skills. Collectively, the number of employees who strongly recommended working for their companies increased by 25%.
Charu previously built two startups. She has educated one million women on how to start their own businesses through her nonprofit, books, and documentary film “Go Against the Flow.”
Samantha J. Letscher – Audience Favorite
Sam Letscher is the Co-founder and CEO of Bossy, a platform that connects feminist consumers with women-owned businesses to drive revenue to women entrepreneurs. She launched Bossy in Chicago in the spring of 2017 while pursuing her bachelor’ degree in Integrated Engineering Studies at Northwestern University.
Sam is inspired by products, services, experiences, brands, and workplaces built by women, for women, and from which women profit. She is now a recent college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in human-centered design and entrepreneurship.
Sam lives in Chicago where she is building and bootstrapping Bossy while working part-time in local politics. She strives to always stay curious and optimistic.