Maui investors looking for uber-good ideas

The only thing standing between a few Maui entrepreneurs and startup funding might be one 15-minute car ride.

On Tuesday, aspiring business owners will get the chance to pitch their best ideas to 12 investors – nine on Oahu and three on Maui – during free, 15-minute rides through a new project called UberPITCH.

Created by Uber, the popular ride-sharing service, the project partners with startup and investment companies to help local entrepreneurs find expertise and possible funding. It’s debuted in more than 20 countries, mostly in Europe, and almost 40 cities, including London, Paris, Miami and San Francisco, according to an announcement.

“We’re excited to launch UberPITCH for the first time in Hawaii,” said Tommy Pierucki, Uber’s Hawaii community manager. “With UberPITCH, we want to connect those with the ‘next big idea’ to investors and seasoned business leaders with the means and know-how to turn ideas into operational businesses.”

Uber is partnering with Sultan Ventures, a Honolulu-based firm that helps early-stage startups. Investors will come from several different organizations that support and invest in startups around Hawaii.

Tarik Sultan, who started Sultan Ventures with his brother, Omar, and sister, Aya, said Thursday that he’d heard about UberPITCH and thought the project would be perfect for Hawaii, which he called a “startup paradise.”

“There’s plenty of opportunities to get started here in Hawaii,” said Sultan, managing partner at the company. “We have a very unique ecosystem in comparison to a lot of other ecosystems across the country because there is that sense of aloha. . . . Everybody’s always willing to open up another door for you.”

To get in on the upcoming UberPITCH event, participants must submit an application online by 11:59 p.m. Sunday. If an idea is selected, the applicant will receive a promo code via email Monday. It will let the user unlock UberPITCH on the Uber app.

Between noon and 4 p.m. on the day of the event, participants can request UberPITCH to catch a ride with an investor and deliver their pitch. All rides are free and will start and end at the pickup location.

Participants will be judged on several aspects, including the problem and solution presented, market size, revenue and business model, and a question-and-answer session. Sultan recommended that participants use half of the 15 minutes for pitching and the rest for questions and feedback.

“Tell a good story,” he advised. “If you make it so simple that anybody can understand it, whether it’s the seasoned executive or his daughter who’s in middle school, they can tell the story to the next person, whether that’s their partner or a customer. That’s how things go viral. You tell a good story, but you keep it unbelievably simple.”

Sultan said that people can pitch either as an individual or a team. Ideas cannot be related to on-demand transportation, mobility or logistics services. At the end of the day, Sultan Ventures will announce the top three pitches.

The first-place winner will receive four hours of mentorship from Sultan Ventures and four weeks of free co-working space at Sultan Ventures offices, which include access to conference rooms and a full kitchen, Sultan said. If the winner is a student, faculty members or alumni of the University of Hawaii, he or she also will advance to the final screening for XLR8UH, a 15-week program that provides mentoring and investment for new startups.

Second place includes two hours of mentorship, two weeks of office space and an advance to Round Two of screening for XLR8UH. Third place includes one hour of mentorship and one week of office space.

Sultan said funding is not guaranteed but is always a possibility – investors will first need to go through “due diligence” to appraise the winners’ companies before signing a contract. The same thing happens on TV shows like “Shark Tank,” in which entrepreneurs also pitch for funding, he said.

The three Maui investors, subject to change, will be Keith Powers, managing partner at Engaged Partners LLC; Virendra Nath, president of HDEP International; and Jamie Zachary Fox, founder of Sunarcher Studios.

Winners will not have to use their mentorship hours all at once, Sultan added.

“We purposely want it to be over a three-month period (for first place, for example), so that it’s more mentorship over time,” he explained. “Our thought is that it’ll allow the entrepreneur(s) time to actually test things in the market and come back with results for additional feedback over time.”

For more information or to apply, visit sultanventures.com/uberpitch.

See article from The Maui News by Colleen Uechi here.