Wow. What a night.

As I stood up on the stage and looked out into the audience, I was truly inspired to see the 229 people that came out to support microbusinesses in our community. We hadn’t even kicked off the pitches yet, and the venue was already buzzing. This group had gathered to celebrate great food, good beer, and a common passion – supporting entrepreneurs in our own backyard.

Since we opened up the InnoVentures application on January 4th, I’ve seen firsthand how valuable it is to give microbusinesses the opportunity to get their business out into the world. Yes, InnoVentures is a pitch competition, but it is so much more than that.

It’s about entrepreneurs supporting other entrepreneurs during their most challenging moments. It’s about leveraging the expertise and leadership from our dedicated volunteers, who spent 237 hours working side-by-side with business owners throughout the competition. And it’s about giving entrepreneurs a hand up instead of a handout – where empowerment comes in the form of training and coaching to help Ventures entrepreneurs improve their public speaking skills and hone their business plan.

As the pitches started – and even though I had heard these pitches more than three dozen times – I was struck with awe at the growth and transformation each business owner had experienced through InnoVentures. I also realized what an investment in their business could mean for these entrepreneurs’ lives.

We saw an incredible range of pitches – from $2,000 all the way up to $80,000.

$2,000 could help Monica Trejo of Puro Dulce Cakes invest in a website to manage online orders, Charli Greig of Vibes Chakra Oils expand a travel pouch line down the West Coast, or Katie Clary of Clary Sage Studio reduce waste and inefficiency through a floral cooler and drip irrigation system.

I also saw that Ventures is in a unique position to support microbusinesses that are ready to scale, to take the big leap into expanding on an existing and thriving business. For Lauren Wilson of Sweet Lo’s Ice Cream, $35,000 would significantly increase the number of pints on the shelves of your neighborhood grocer. For Fluffybutts Belltown and founder Heather Hoffacker, $80,000 would help them expand a new product line of chewable dog treats to relieve pain and reduce anxiety for our furry friends.

All of our finalists shared one common challenge: “My business is currently operating at Point A. I want to take it to Point B. What is it going to take to get there, and what do I need to ask for to make it happen?”

That’s our purpose and our mission; to work side-by-side with entrepreneurs at every stage of their business, helping people define their own version of success.

So on Monday night, as more than 200 people gathered to listen to these fantastic women-owned businesses give their five-minute pitches, I was struck by how unique InnoVentures is. It is an opportunity to support Ventures, but it is so, so much more than that. Having watched these entrepreneurs grow, thrive, and improve their pitches over the last three months, I could see how much it meant for them to have made this journey.

When we announced the winners, I was so happy for each of our five finalists. Each of these incredible women had come so far in their journey, and I was incredibly proud to stand by their side.

Thank you to everyone that made this event possible – the sponsors that supported the event, the to our coaches and staff that helped entrepreneurs through the three-month process leading up to the finals. At Ventures, we do everything that we can to support our microbusiness owners, and with your support we want to reach even more aspiring entrepreneurs in the months and years to come.

That’s we are asking our supporters to step up to “Pitch In” during the month of April. With an incredible outpouring of support on the night of InnoVentures 2018, we blew past our $5,000 goal for the night and unlocked a match from the Massena Foundation. We have now raised more than $13,000 towards our $25,000. With your help, we know that we can hit this goal and take our game to the next level – just like our entrepreneurs did at InnoVentures finals.