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How start-ups can shine at HR Tech

Pitchfest returns at this year's conference, with $25,000 top prize.
By: | July 7, 2020 • 2 min read
Pilot Coaching CEO Ben Brooks accepts the winner's check at HR Tech 2019's Pitchfest.

Innovation in the HR tech space has rarely been as important—and happening as rapidly—as it is now, in the wake of the global pandemic. New solutions are being created almost daily to meet the evolving needs of the workforce and to help employers address those challenges with empathy. To enable HR leaders to sort through the increasingly crowded marketplace, and to acknowledge the companies on the leading edge of HR innovation, the HR Technology Conference & Exposition® is gearing up for its annual Pitchfest.

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Applications are now being accepted for the third-annual competition, which will be held during HR Tech, slated for Oct. 13-16 in Last Vegas; the conference will be held virtually if an in-person event isn’t feasible because of the pandemic.

Pitchfest allows start-ups to submit an idea they’re working on for a solution—whether it’s just in the concept stage or has recently been rolled out—that aims to address a pressing HR issue. All conference exhibitors are eligible to apply.

After the fast-paced competition featuring pitches from the 30 top entrants, a panel of judges will select the winner, who will receive a $25,000 prize donated by Randstad Innovation Fund; the runner-up will get $5,000.

 See also: 5 things to know about HR Tech

Last year’s winner, PILOT, an employee coaching software product, used the prize money to go “a little bit faster on the things we had in our roadmap,” said founder and CEO Ben Brooks. The funding enabled the company to increase staff hours, launch new features, accelerate product feedback and kick off its new accelerated coaching program three months after the conference.

While the prize was a boon for business, the format of Pitchfest—a three-minute presentation followed by two minutes of answering questions from industry experts—also taught the company a lot, Brooks said, particularly about condensing and focusing its pitch on the product’s true value.

“It really made a tremendous difference in our marketing and messaging,” he recently told HRE. “We redid, frankly, our website, collateral, sales process, everything as a result of what we learned through Pitchfest.”

Related: Catching up with Pitchfest winner Ben Brooks of Pilot

Steve Boese, chair of the conference, says he expects to see a number of entrants whose products were prompted by the health crisis.

“We have seen a need for a new class of workplace technologies related to the safe reopening of workplaces, tools to better understand and monitor employee health and wellbeing, and technology designed to keep workers and customers as safe as possible,” he says. “That, and also an increased emphasis on existing collaborative technologies to support the rapid shift to remote working.”

While the conference is currently scheduled to happen in person, if the shift is made to a virtual setting, Boese anticipates Pitchfest finalists would be selected in advance and invited to demo their solutions during the online event, with the possibility of comments and questions from attendees.

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“We will have to figure out the process, but I am very confident the show will go on,” Boese says.

Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

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