Two well-known entrepreneurs in the Colorado Springs startup scene represented the city — and the country — on the global stage last month during the annual Get in the Ring Competition in Singapore.
And although Tejon Technologies Inc. co-founders Samuel Elliott and Paul Nielsen flew back from the competition seemingly empty-handed, they would beg to differ.
The two entrepreneurs, who run a database startup in downtown Colorado Springs, say they achieved much: They won a stiff local Get in the Ring competition against four fierce startup competitors and went on to be the only U.S. team to compete in the Singapore finals, as well as attend the organization’s 2017 Global Conference.
“It seems the point of it was to get to the conference, be part of that global community and meet with venture capitalists,” Nielsen said. “There were amazing companies doing fantastic things that were not chosen to be in the limelight because they couldn’t be explained in 30 seconds — and that’s OK.”
Elliott and Nielsen met last year via the Colorado Springs-based nonprofit Peak Startup, an organization for which they both serve as board members.
Just three weeks before Elliott’s college graduation last month, the two discussed the young entrepreneur coming on board at Tejon Tech to lead the company’s business development.
“I’ve led business development for two companies — one small business here in town and another startup here in town — and I had been trying to decide what to do upon graduating,” Elliott said. “Paul had made a pretty strong sales pitch with a complete finished product … so I told him that we would circle back after graduation.”
Two days later, those plans changed as news circulated that UCCS would host the Colorado edition of the Get in the Ring Competition, and that EPIIC, the school’s El Pomar Institute for Innovation and Commercialization, would sponsor an all-expenses-paid trip to Singapore for the winning team to compete in the international finals.
The two agreed to compete in the challenge representing Nielsen’s company, and Elliott jumped on board as Tejon Tech’s business development co-founder. The two prepared feverishly to craft a two-minute pitch for the local competition that might adequately convey the company’s ethos: to save companies valuable time and money by helping them develop more powerful and versatile databases.
The hard work wasn’t in vain, and the two won the crown in the Colorado competition — and became the default U.S. champions, and on May 14, Elliott and Nielsen boarded a plane to Singapore.
While there they attended the Get in the Ring Foundation’s 2017 Global Conference (May 17-19), which Elliott and Nielsen both said was rich with informative lectures, educational workshops and invaluable networking opportunities.
“In the startup ecosystem, we tend to focus on just what’s happening locally or regionally,” Nielsen said. “But being there and rubbing shoulders with startups from Colombia, from Uganda, from Hungary, from France, really made it feel like the ecosystem was much more global.”
The two agreed that the opportunity to network with potential investors, as well as around 150 entrepreneurs representing 60 startups, was perhaps the trip’s most valuable payoff.
At the final competition, startups were put into three categories — lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight — depending on how much funding they had previously raised. Because Tejon Tech hadn’t yet entered a fundraising phase, they were put in the lightweight category.
Elliott and Nielsen then gave a three-minute pitch to a panel of preliminary judges for a chance to place in the final competition.
“We’re open to a strategic investment but only from the right partner,” Elliott said in the closing of the pitch. “Most importantly, we are looking for an international corporation to partner with for a single project to prove our technology to the world.”
Elliott said there were likely about 40 companies competing for the final two spots.
“We felt really, really good in the pitch, but during the nine-minute Q&A session afterwards the judges were the first ones to admit that they did not have much software expertise,” Elliott said. “They asked a lot of questions and were very interested in everything that was going on, but we could just tell that it was a little bit difficult for them to grasp the concept of what we were doing.”
The team then stood before a second panel of preliminary judges who Elliot said were nearly as excited as he was about Tejon Tech, but that wasn’t enough to get them one of those two spots in the finals.
Having returned to life along the Front Range, Nielsen and Elliott are back to business and plan to launch Tejon Tech’s inaugural database product in September — and they both agree the Get in the Ring experience was well worth their time.
“Global exposure would have been extremely beneficial for us,” Elliott said, “but the experience … we were able to gain from the investors there at the conference was extremely valuable.” n CSBJ