StartUp Lehigh Valley Pitch Competition Awards $33,000 in Prizes to Entrepreneurs
By Colin McEvoy on October 27, 2022
When Giana Jarrah’s mother was diagnosed with an aggressive stage of pre-cervical cancer, she decided to become a biomedical engineer. After attending Lehigh University, the Allentown resident developed a probiotic supplement for urinary and vaginal health.
She launched a company to sell her product called With Meraki Co., which took home the grand prize of $20,000 at the fourth annual StartUp Lehigh Valley, a pitch competition that showcases regional entrepreneurs and the innovation taking place in our community.
“I am a scientist, I believe in the science, and I am now an entrepreneur in the nutraceutical space whose dedicated to making sure every woman has the information and product for optimal vaginal health,” Jarrah said.
The event took place on Oct. 26 at Factory LLC, a Bethlehem-based investor and operator for food, beverage, and pet health companies in Lehigh Valley. The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) was one of the sponsors.
“We’re in our fourth year, and we’ve cemented our place as a pitch competition for inspired entrepreneurs who are ready to take their business to the next level,” said Liz Keptner, the Director of Multimedia Innovation Center at Penn State Lehigh Valley, who co-hosted the event. “Designed to showcase innovation happening in our community and in surrounding communities, Startup Lehigh Valley also supports the next generation of business leaders.”
In the entrepreneurial pitch competition, 10 finalists pitched their products and businesses to a panel of judges in front of a live and virtual audience. A total of $33,000 in prize money was up for grabs, along with essential resources for startup businesses.
In addition to the grand prize, With Meraki Co. also won $5,000 from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP_NEPA), which for the first time in the event’s history presented an award to the top early-stage technology-based firm.
The lactose-free Beckon Ice Cream was named the 1st runner-up and received a prize of $3,000. Beckon co-founder Gwen Burlingame said 83 million Americans are lactose-intolerant, including her fellow co-founder Katy Flannery.
“Beckon is revolutionizing dairy with an innovative platform of cravable premium products that are unbelievably delicious and surprisingly lactose-free,” Burlingame said. “We’ve started with a patented portfolio of ice cream formulations, and Beckon is already in the top 3 fastest-growing brands in our nation’s largest natural retailer.”
Baleena was the 2nd runner-up and won $2,000, as well as the $1,000 Audience (Viewer’s Choice) Award. The company is building a ball with a hard outer shell and soft porous inner filter, which can be placed in laundry machines to capture microfibers that are released from clothing during the laundry cycle, so they are not released into water and the environment.
“94% of U.S. tap water contains microplastics, and 35% of that 94% is actually directly from our clothing,” said Baleena COO Sarah Beth Gleeson. “Anytime you throw any polyester, any nylon into laundry, it releases tiny little pieces of plastic called microfibers, and these microfibers then end up in our oceans, in our ecosystems, and even in our bodies.”
Startup Lehigh Valley prizes were determined by panel of judges that included Sue Yee, founder & CEO of Active Data; Mike Tierney, founder & CEO of Stuffed Puffs; Chris LaBonge, owner of Doan Distillery; and Doug Engler, BFTP_NEPA Lehigh Valley Regional Manager.
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