Christina Phillips Makes Her Pitch Personal
It is Tuesday evening, October 17, in downtown Hartford. The cozy office suite, lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, is filled with nervous excitement as the founders of startups emerging from UConn anxiously wait to pitch their businesses. The 2023 Wolff New Venture Competition is the culmination of the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI) summer program that helps prepare UConn students and faculty to launch their ideas.
Christina Phillips, a UConn MBA student, is ready. She heads the fourth of six teams competing for nearly $60,000 in cash prizes. Phillips is the CEO of the startup Puure, which uses organic cotton and nontoxic materials to make female intimate apparel and promotes female health.
Phillips has been in sales at various companies since 2009. She is on brand for the competition, wearing stylish black Sean John eyeglasses, a black double-breasted suit with large silver buttons, and bright blue shoes.
Tonight, the other teams are Mud Rat, an eco-friendly surfboard; Andros, ammonia synthesis reactors that are safer, cheaper and more efficient; Swipestorm, digital technology for managing quick-service restaurants; Particle N, a cost-effective process to use precious metals; and Feel Your Best Self, products to help kids build emotion-focused coping skills.
Each team had eight minutes to pitch and five minutes to answer questions from the judges.
Pitch competitions are great because they create a stage and opportunity for people to perform."
Pitching, A Team Sport
Pitching seems to be growing faster than pickleball. A pitch is a presentation to convince investors that a startup is viable and deserving of an investment.
“Pitch competitions are great because they create a stage and opportunity for people to perform,” UConn Professor Rory McGloin states. McGloin is CCEI’s communications whisperer and works with students on their pitches. He likes the pressure and excitement of pitch competitions.
But McGloin cautions the entrepreneurial world not to rely on pitch competitions as the “end all, be all” for early-stage funding. He believes that entrepreneurial centers and programs should not just train to win pitch competitions but to build businesses.
I spoke to Phillips the next day over the telephone. Her “aha” moment came in her marketing management class at UConn. She mentioned being diagnosed in 2017 with a fibroid health condition. This would be the problem looking for a solution, leading to the formation of Puure.
During extensive research, she learned that her favorite printed undergarments were printed with chemicals, some called “forever chemicals,” that may contribute to health issues because they are absorbed into the skin.
“I’m passionate about the problem and the business,” she states. “I know the business is going to work. It’s a product that is needed and useful,” she adds. “It’s a white space right now.”
I changed my pitch based on his feedback."
Feel Your Best Self, led by UConn professor Sandy Chafouleas and Emily Wicks, on the School of Fine Arts staff, won the top prize of $25,000.
Phillips says, “I wish I’d gotten the grand prize, but I was excited to get something.” Puure won The FML CPAs Audience Choice Award and a $5,000 prize. She attributes her pitch success to McGloin’s feedback, which helped her succeed in an earlier CCEI pitch competition. “I changed my pitch based on his feedback,” Phillips states. “And he has helped me ever since.”
When it comes to working with Phillips, McGloin states, “It was exciting!” He felt Phillips was “genuinely committed to putting forward the best piece possible.” He believes her business can “completely revolutionize how we think about undergarments and the clothes we wear.”
As endings go, this was a happy night because all the participants won: Swipestorm took the Santander second prize of $10,000; Andros won The Prime Materials Recovery third prize of $7,500. Mud Rat won The Mark and Jamie Summers Innovation Award and $5,000; Particle-N got the Baystate Financial Disruption Award and $5,000.