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Startups across the nation competed for investment dollars in Memphis

By Paula Anderson and Johari Hamilton

Budding entrepreneurs gathered in Memphis Oct. 14 - 16 for the StartUp the Year Summit. Established and Start Co. partnered to bring the pitch competition to the Bluff City. 

As Memphis celebrates 200 years, the competition was a vehicle to strengthen the economy and expose startups to investors and corporations. 

Andre Fowkles,  President of Start Co. said, “The new partnership with Established and hosting Summit is the culmination of hard work years in the making. Memphis arguably ground zero for tech startups trying to solve problems in the supply chain of consumer, agriculture, and distributed goods due to the logistics infrastructure that was cemented when FedEx headquartered here.” 

Pictured: Eric Mathews, Andre Fowkles and Shelby Peranich - Photo Credit: Paula Anderson

On Oct. 14, the Summit kicked off with a welcome party on the rooftop of the Hu Hotel on Madison Ave.  Startups, investors and local supporters enjoyed adult beverages and hors d’oeuvres overlooking the Mississippi River. 

Autozone Park was the venue for Day 2 of the SOTY. 

Startups representing various industries such as medical devices, technology, agriculture, and more were all vying for the chance of becoming the 2019 Startup of the Year (SOTY 2019). Start Co.and Established hosted businesses based out of Dallas, Boston, New Jersey, and Baltimore to name a few.

Excitement and passion for the innovators filled the venue. The crowd was mixed with Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials. Stakeholders sought out their top three picks, as they listened while founders and cofounders pitched their business.

The culmination took place on Wednesday at the Peabody Hotel with companies competing for investment dollars.  Teams pitched their business model to investors. 

Company industries ranged from healthcare, housing and property management technology.  Local startup SecondKeys placed 3rd in the competition out of 100 companies. 

Courtesy Photo of SecondKeys

Amber Hayes, founder and CEO said, “This was the first time we had ever entered this type of contest. We have done many types of pitch competitions before but one of this magnitude has been out of reach due to distance. Having the summit close to home was great and it received our full focus. We spent most of the time networking with investors, mentors and startups - outside of the planned events because to us, community is important. The entrepreneur / small business life is a long challenging road, having someone else in your corner that you can reach out to makes a world of difference and in having a decent network you can help other businesses find what they need to move to the next step.” 

Hera Health Solutions, a pharmaceutical device company that specializes in developing bioerodible implants for long acting medications, also pitched from the Memphis community. 

Idicula Mathew, co-founder said, “As our company is in the process of closing a $1MM+ investment round (led by Memphis healthcare VC Innova), the SOTY Summit was timed perfectly for us to position ourselves in front of attendees from around the nation and even the globe as we are actively looking to grow our team and hit important regulatory and production milestones."

“Our company moved to Memphis in 2018 to participate in the Zeroto510 medical device accelerator program and we made the decision to stay due to the prominent healthcare partnerships we have established in the area. The fact that the SOTY 2019 event was hosted in Memphis this year really validates our decision to be based here. Our team really sees the valuable growth and internal push driving startup growth in the city. Personally as CEO, having the opportunity to be so plugged into the economic development, corporation engagement, and startup ecosystem in the city as a startup founder is truly unique and Hera Health is proud to be a part of all this exciting growth.”

Anthony Gantt, co-founder of At Ease and Dallas native, pitched his business model on housing for military families. 

Gantt said, “This was my first time attending SOTY19 and it was a great experience. It allowed me to travel outside of my city and get exposure in a different environment among a variety of thought. This was a unique experience as I was fortunate to meet investors from various industries and a range of locations. Having such a diverse group of ‘thinks’ highlighted things to consider that had not been highlighted in my own backyard of investors."

"Outside of the events planned for the summit were to outside networks that were developed over coffee, lunch, and dinners away from the venue. Being able to share with startups from across the country was really interesting too. I got to learn what others were doing in there industry and how their market responding to them. Knowing that people are out there creating businesses was motivating!"

The SOTY drew people from across the nation and Russell Gay, principal of ConsultRX,  shared thoughts about his experience. 

“I was honored to meet the top 100 companies and their founding CEOs in transformative technology in a friendly shark tank atmosphere this week. The SOTY team put together a classy event that included finalists in healthcare, agriculture, defense, apparel and other industries showing differentiated approaches to using AI, VR, Cloud, 3D printing, Genetic Design, drones.” 

To learn more about Start Co., contact Eric Mathews @

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