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Workforce recruiting startups earn high marks in Elevator Pitch Olympics

November 15, 2021
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Two Wisconsin startups that help companies fill gaps in their workforce won top scores from the judges in the Elevator Pitch Olympics, part of the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium held earlier this month.

Clock’d, a Madison business that helps bars and restaurants hire employees, won the competition. Internship on Demand, a startup also based in Madison that recruits and trains college students for internships at a variety of businesses, took second place.

“We can manage the entire hiring process,” Marc LaPierre, cofounder and CEO of Clock’d, told the gathering. Clock’d started in 2017, and in the last six months, the company has helped its restaurant, bar and corporate clients hire 100 employees, LaPierre said.

Keegan Moldenhauer, cofounder of Internship on Demand, said his business, founded in 2020, aims to give students the internship opportunities they’ve missed because of the COVID-19 pandemic by bringing the workplace experience online. The startup has one pilot program operating with Spectrum Brands in Middleton, and will begin another in 2022 with Bemis Manufacturing in Sheboygan Falls.

The founders’ presentations played as much of a role as the company concepts themselves in drawing high marks, said judge Michael Thorson, co-founder and managing director of Inventure Capital, of Madison, and co-manager for Wisconsin Investment Partners. But the judges also are well aware that the concepts are hitting the mark at a time when restaurants and other businesses are not open for their full, normal hours because they can’t find enough staff.

“The market is wide open for this. It’s a hot space,” Thorson said.

The four judges for the competition are all seasoned investors. This year, three of them were from Chicago-based venture capital firms.

The Elevator Pitch Olympics is traditionally a highlight of the Early Stage Symposium, presented by the Wisconsin Technology Council and the Wisconsin Healthcare Business Forum. Leaders of young companies deliver their best 90-second pitch—about the duration of an elevator ride—to an audience that includes early-stage investors and supporters.

Madison biotechnology startup Xylome was the favorite of those in the audience who watched the presentations, receiving the People’s Choice Award. Xylome president Thomas Jeffries said his company is developing a sustainable substitute for palm oil that won’t involve “destroying forests around the world.” Palm oil is used in a broad array of products, ranging from lipstick to soap to instant noodles.

The Elevator Pitch Olympics doesn’t award monetary prizes, but it does expose startups to investors from around the region. Thorson said he considered about half a dozen of the startups featured at the event to have “investable” ideas.

More than 350 people attended the two-day Early Stage Symposium, held at Monona Terrace in Madison.

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