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Switching it up to match up startups, big companies

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Celebrity Cruises sent several executives to pitch projects to startups during SwitchPitch on Thursday. 


It’s usually the startups that are taking the stage at pitching contests and demo day events, managing their nerves while hoping their presentations will catch the attention of potential investors, partners or customers. But SwitchPitch, a new event that came to Miami on Thursday, turned that upside down.

In this event, held at the LightBox in Wynwood, it was big companies such as Bacardi and Celebrity Cruises that presented their technology and marketing projects in five-minute pitches to an audience of about 80 startups interested in short-term and longer-term strategic relationships.

“It is a great day to be a startup because bigger companies are more and more willing to work with startups to get innovation done,” said Michael Goldstein, a serial entrepreneur who co-founded SwitchPitch in Washington, D.C., and is taking the concept around the country. Miami was its third location, through support from the Knight Foundation. “I’ve been there, I know what happens, you get a meeting with a big company only to find out the contact is the wrong contact or the timing is all wrong. We think this is a more efficient process to listen to what the big companies need,” Goldstein said.

Celebrity Cruises, for instance, which sent a team of three executives, was seeking to modernize and expand its mobile app to become its “flagship application” aimed at enhancing the cruise experience before, during and after the cruise. Bacardi was looking for innovative tech solutions for its loyalty programs and also projects such as a mobile game app and a home delivery and re-ordering app, and at least one local entrepreneur, Michael Hall of MediumFour, said he had an app to show Bacardi now.

An executive for The Weather Company pitched a project for a big-data solution to deliver its information. That interested the team at Bimotics. “We built a technology that does exactly what he asked for,” said Areeya Lila, co-founder of Bimotics, which offers business intelligence software as a service. David Notik of Woven, which helps brands increase audience engagement through the power of online communities, said he would be following up with Bacardi, Celebrity and The Weather Company.

Young & Rubicam, one of the world's largest advertising agencies, was seeking an internal, secure, web-based data library to store and organize proprietary company marketing and advertising collateral for easy-to-build presentation decks. The Wynwood Business Improvement District sought an engaging branding strategy. Mobifusion was pitching an engineering and sciences textbook app platform for a major education company.

Photo (42)“I think one of the biggest challenges startups have is really how to navigate this world of larger enterprises, so [SwitchPitch] is a brilliant idea,” said Manny Medina, founder of eMerge Americas who participated in a fireside chat with Goldstein (pictured) at the event. “This kind of event helps the entire ecosystem here.”

After each pitch the startups asked questions and a networking session followed. Not everything went perfectly. Some startups said the ideas pitched seemed too vague -- they wanted more specifics. Others remarked that not all the pitching companies stayed for the networking session and they wanted the chance to talk to them.

Startups attending the event were encouraged to submit proposals on a SwitchPitch platform, where the companies could evaluate them, said Goldstein. “The goal is to provide enough to get them interested in your company so it will turn into a phone call and a meeting.”

That’s what happened to Cody Littlewood. Littlewood runs Codelitt Incubator, which works with clients to create new technology and emerging media products. At a SwitchPitch in New York, where Codelitt was based, he heard a pitch by Assurant, a risk management financial company, that wanted to build a warranty program with one-click registration. Littlewood applied and was selected, Codelitt built the platform — but it didn’t end there. Codelitt has several more projects with Assurant, which has allowed the startup to triple in size and more than triple in revenue, said Littlewood, who attended the Miami event. It wasn’t difficult: Last week, he moved his expanded company to Wynwood.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.