VFA announces Demo Day winners

This article originally appeared in biz women.

By Anne Stych

Plant-based vitamins and a doll that inspires girls of color won the top prizes at Venture For America’s second Annual Demo Day, which featured pitches from 10 young entrepreneurs building innovative companies.

Taking the top prize of $7,500 at the event sponsored by UBS Investment Bank (NYSE:UBS) was GEM, a Los Angeles-based company that produces plant-based, minimally-processed, sustainably-sourced vitamins with algae as a main ingredient and operates under a subscription model.

The company was founded by Sara Cullen, who participated in VFA’s inaugural accelerator class in in 2012.

Cullen said that GEM was born out of her “frustration with our broken health system and my passion to find healthier ways to nourish ourselves and our planet.”

“Ninety percent of women in America are nutrient deficient. We need vitamins, but the way they’re built today is wrong,” she told L.A. Confidentialmagazine. “The more I researched, the more I realized we needed to create an entirely new kind of vitamin — one made with real food and designed for real women.”

Yelitsa Jean-Charles of Healthy Roots Dolls, also a graduate of the VFA accelerator program, received a $2,500 award. Jean-Charles started her company because she was frustrated by the lack of black and brown doll options available for girls of color to identify with, she told Quirktastic.

“Our dolls have multiple interests and aspirations which exposes young girls to their own unlimited career potential. Our goal is to represent the voices of young girls of color in the toy industry with products that empower, educate and inspire self-love,” the company’s website says.

Other companies that pitched included Jam, an employee engagement platform in Detroit, founded by 2016 Fellow Shea Parikh, and Stix, a company that produces a direct-to-consumer pregnancy test, co-founded by Jamie Norwood and Cynthia Plotch.

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 of Collective[i]; and Jennifer Gabrielli, managing director and global chief of staff of the UBS Investment Bank.

In the first 10 months of 2018, women-founded companies closed 391 deals worth $2.3 billion, up from $2 billion in 2017, a figure that equals about 2.2 percent. Women entrepreneurs own 38 percent of all businesses in the United States.

VFA is a nonprofit fellowship program that connects recent college graduates with jobs at startups, forging a community of entrepreneurs committed to building companies that matter and creating economic opportunity in American cities.

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