I’m happy to be a part of an amazing company with an amazing team. (Co-founders) Brady Stoddard and Ayde Soto both made it possible for me to give the winning presentation on Thursday. Getting the grand prize was great but the audience choice was incredible.

Pressure is a funny thing. We all like to think that when the lights are bright and the world starts closing in, our innermost talents will manifest themselves, leading to a graceful, victorious ride into the sunset. Unfortunately, as a person who has failed miserably with plenty of eyes watching, I can say that this isn’t always the case. Until you’re thrown into the fire, it’s impossible to predict how you will react.

Backstage at Start Madness, the $150,000 pitch competition that unofficially signaled the end of StartFEST, the pressure was palpable, a tangible object you could reach out and caress. Contestants rehearsed pitches for a final time, ready to go onstage with a dream of altering the trajectory of their early-stage startup. There was a nervous energy surrounding the event, much akin to a high-profile football game, where everyone involved — both participant and attendee — fully understands the stakes.

And as the 10 semi-finalists prepared to pitch in front of a packed audience and judges from Utah’s most respected venture firms, my only thought was, “I’m glad I don’t have to do that.”

“I was pretty nervous backstage,” said Sam Stoddard, co-founder and lone presenter of SimpleCitizen at Start Madness. “I had seen all the other companies present and each of them are impressive. I knew the competition that I was going up against and it was tough. On top of that, being able to present in front of some of the top business people in Utah is both an opportunity and an extremely intimidating experience.”

Despite the nervousness and intimidation, Stoddard’s pitch was the overwhelming favorite of the night, netting SimpleCitizen the audience vote ($25,000) and first place from the judges ($100,000). Not a terrible night for a company that officially launched less than two months ago and is already helping to simplify the process of immigration.

“I’m happy to be a part of an amazing company with an amazing team,” Stoddard said. “(Co-founders) Brady Stoddard and Ayde Soto both made it possible for me to give the winning presentation on Thursday. Getting the grand prize was great but the audience choice was incredible.”

Purpose Portfolio, the company dedicated to giving back and represented by founder SaraJoy Pond, was the other winner of the night, garnering a second-place vote from the judges worth $25,000. Despite the high-stakes, Pond pitched to audience and judges without the nerves that had accompanied the earlier rounds of Start Madness.

“Honestly, I was a lot less nervous in front of that audience than I had been in previous rounds of the competition,” Pond said. “It was mostly just excitement by that time. The audience had a great energy, and the pitch was really fun. I was definitely in the zone backstage, and it’s probably a good thing — If I’d actually heard how perfectly Sam nailed his pitch, I probably would have been nervous. When we won? I was thrilled. Going into it, we felt like a bit of a longshot — there were so many other great companies. It feels like a huge vote of confidence from the UT entrepreneurial community.”

That vote of confidence is enormous, especially for an early-stage startup like Purpose Portfolio. It’s obviously great to believe in your own vision, but it’s incredibly rewarding when others join in.

“Purpose Portfolio is gearing up for some explosive growth in the coming months,” Pond said. “We have some great new clients to onboard, some fantastic feedback to execute on in the product, and resources that will help us grow the team and nail our product-market fit — by this time next year, we’ll be making some real noise. Count on it.”

To learn more about Purpose Portfolio, ditto.

Published 9/10/2015