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Startup founders square off at Pitch Madness at Synapse Summit

Margie Manning

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Jessica Primavera, founder of Unbound, faced off with Tony Ruben, founder of Blue Halo Biomedical, in the final round of Pitch Madness at the Synapse Summit.

Blue Halo Biomedical, an Orlando medical device company, was the winner of Pitch Madness at the Synapse Summit.

The first-place prize comes with a $10,000 equity investment. Half of that total came from SeedFunders St. Petersburg, and the other half came from SeedFunders Orlando, said Dave Chitester.

Chitester, co-founder and CEO of St. Petersburg-based SeedFunders, is chairman of SeedFundersOrlando.

Blue Halo was formed to commercialize the Blue Halo coil catheter, a fully internal catheter that was shown in a recent clinical study to reduce catheter-associated urinary tract infection by 80 percent. The company was founded by Tony Ruben, who is CEO, and has raised $750,000 to date.

Blue Halo was one of eight companies in this year’s Pitch Madness, a head-to-head founders debate tournament meant to replace the traditional pitch competition. The platform challenges founders on their business acumen, decision-making and community skills. Those are the foundations of a well-rounded leader who can form and scale a cohesive team while achieving success in the marketplace, according to Pitch Madness organizers.

Pitch Madness is a bracket-style competition in which founders go head-to-head answering questions designed to determine their business acumen, decision-making and communication skills.

During the seven-minute final round, Ruben and Jessica Primavera, co-founder and CEO of Unbound, a Seattle-based travel booking engine, answered questions about leadership, staffing and funding. Judges provided feedback on their responses, offering advice that could apply to most startups.

In one question, Ruben and Primavera were asked what is more important to them — an unpaid pilot program with a large corporation or a check to lead a funding round by a top venture capitalist. Both said they would prefer the unpaid pilot.

It’s a false choice, said Ben Patz, one of the judges and managing partner of Deepwork Capital, an Orlando-based venture capital firm.

“My answer would be I don’t want either one of those. I want a paid pilot,” Patz said. “Always be looking for paid pilots. People who are willing to pay for something have a vested stake in that.”

Another question focused on hiring workers as the company grows. Founders were asked about re-skilling or replacing their workforce. Primavera said she would re-skill employees and invest in her existing workforce. Ruben said he would turn the urologists on his team who currently are focused on clinical testing into a role as experts who handle direct calls with potential customers, but also would hire new customer service workers because the company is growing quickly.

“I’m all for re-skilling,” said Joy Randels, another judge and founder and CEO at New Market Partners and board chairman of The Undercroft. “However, specialty skill sets as you scale are critical to the success of the company. There are people, just like founders, that are great at certain points in a company’s life. When you become not that person, whether you own 50 percent of the company or not, you should step aside and put the right person in there if you want to do the right thing for your company.”

Unbound was the second place winner, while third place went to Skysquad, a Washington, D.C.-based company that provides assistance at the airport.

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