December 5, 2018

GEM & Healthy Roots Dolls Win Big at 2nd Annual VFA Demo Day

On November 27, we hosted our 2nd Annual Demo Day, which featured pitches from ten young entrepreneurs building five innovative companies, ranging from a direct-to-consumer pregnancy test to an employee engagement platform. The event, sponsored by UBS, featured $10,000 in cash prizes to help these entrepreneurs continue building traction for their businesses. GEM, a subscription-based, real-foods vitamin company based in NYC won the Judges’ prize of $7,500, while Healthy Roots Dolls, a Cincinnati based company, took home the Audience Favorite Award of $2,500 for creating the first doll intended to help African-American children love their natural hair.
The event was held at The Metrograph Theater, noted by GQ as the “coolest new theater in the world,” in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The room was packed with investors, entrepreneurs, prominent business leaders and long-time fans of VFA.
The entrepreneurs competing had to pitch their companies and take questions from an expert panel of judges. Serving as judges were Carley Roney, co-founder of The XO Group (home to The Knot and The Bump); Sutian Dong, partner at Female Founders Fund; Alex Friedman co-founder of Lola; Heidi Messer, co-founder and CEO of Collective[i]; and Jennifer Gabrielli, Managing Director & Global Chief of Staff of the UBS Investment Bank.
Sara Cullen ’12 took home the top prize of the evening with her company GEM. Sara was a New Orleans Fellow in our inaugural class and has been building companies in the wellness space since. Yelitsa Jean-Charles ‘16 of Healthy Roots Dolls completed her Fellowship in Cincinnati, where she started building her brand before relocating to Detroit for the VFA Accelerator.
The other Fellows who pitched were—

  • Shea Parikh ’16, co-founder of Jam, an employee-engagement platform in Detroit
  • Mapate Diop ’16 and Evan Fried ’16 co-founders of Diop, a heritage-inspired streetwear brand after meeting during their Fellowship in Baltimore
  • Jamie Norwood ’15 and Cynthia Plotch ’15 co-founders of Stix, the first discreet direct-to-consumer pregnancy test

Demo Day is an important opportunity and springboard for our Fellow Founded companies. The companies who pitched at this event last year have now grown to a combined 43 employees and have raised more than $6mm in seed funding in less than 12 months. We can’t wait to see what’s next for the companies that pitched this year.
Check out more pictures from the event on Facebook!