Pitchfest: Where Are They Now?
— Machines for Freedom —
Last month, Camber Outdoors selected seven finalists to pitch their business plans in front of a judging panel at Outdoor Retailer on July 22.
Leading up to the event, the finalists receive eight weeks of intensive mentorship from private equity executives who will coach them in several areas: focusing their vision and business plans, refining financial models, and preparing their pitches. These finalists will join the 26 businesswomen alumnae of Pitchfest past, including Jenn Kriske, founder of Machines for Freedom.
Jenn pitched her cycling apparel company during Pitchfest 2017—
a women’s cycling clothing brand with origins from her Malibu living room where she began designing apparel in 2013.
On June 4, 2018, it was announced that Machines for Freedom was acquired by Specialized Bicycle Components. According to the announcement in BRAIN, the brands will remain separate and Specialized described the purchase as “a bold investment in women’s leadership.”
Jenn credits the elevation of her company —and the tools for a successful pitch resulting in acquisition—to the Pitchfest program.
Where did the inspiration for Machines for Freedom come from?
When I started Machines, I was thinking a lot about women’s relationship to bikes. Back in 2014, a lot of the story telling around cycling was immersed in racing, racing history, suffering and heroics – think of Eddie Merckx, racing up a hot dirt climb on a steel framed bike, wearing a wool jersey with no helmet. That was the era cyclists were idolizing at the time, but it was a culture that women were not part of. Women weren’t even allowed to race bikes at that time. So while I found the stories interesting and impressive, they didn’t resonate with me on an emotional level.
I started looking at our history with cycling, and for women it goes back to the Victorian Era when the bicycle was first invented. During that time women were wearing corsets, rarely left the house unchaperoned, and the Suffragists were fighting for the right to vote. It was an act of rebellion for women to pick up a bike and it became a symbol of empowerment. Our name is an homage to that time.
All genders can relate to the feeling of freedom when riding a bike, but for women, that sense of freedom goes much deeper.
Why did you decide to apply for Pitchfest?
I wanted to be pushed out of my comfort zone, and public speaking, on a stage, with a camera, was more like a shove outside of my comfort zone! I was seeking investment to take Machines to the next level and I thought this opportunity would force me to hone the Machines story and get our company in front of industry leaders.
What was the most valuable thing you took from the Pitchfest program?
The pressure of public speaking in front of an esteemed group of people forced me to focus on my pitch and business trajectory in a new way. When you’re looking for funding, you hear “no” a lot, and that constant stream of rejection erodes your confidence. But when you’re on stage, you can’t fake it. At least I can’t!
The pitch forced me to recapture the confidence and enthusiasm I had at the very beginning on my journey. And because the jurors were going to ask questions, it also forced me to dig into my business in a way I hadn’t before. I had to understood the financials, the stats, and the analytics inside and out.
It was essentially a crash course in my industry and my own brand, and when I was done, I felt like I could take a meeting with the most savvy of business executives and hold court.
How did Pitchfest impact your company trajectory?
I had the opportunity to meet executives from Backcountry for one, and shortly after they picked up our line! It was also interesting to get feedback from so many women who didn’t ride bikes but still felt a connection to the brand. It reinforced my belief that Machines For Freedom has the potential to be much bigger than cycling.
Congratulations on the acquisition with Specialized Bicycle Components! How did your Pitchfest experience play a role in this development?
Having a video of the pitch was such a great tool as conversations with Specialized started. As we started brainstorming ways that these two companies can come together, we ended up with a list of pretty challenging goals! So of course Specialized’s next question was going to be: “Do you have what it takes to pull this off?” They were already convinced of the brand’s potential, and the Pitchfest video enabled the Specialized executives to see me as a leader.
Did you have an adviser or mentor? How did they help you with business decisions?
I had been working with business advisor, Russell Cree of Bell Lap Advisors, for about one year prior to Pitchfest, and his help was critical. I didn’t have any business experience prior to starting Machines, and working with Russell was like a crash-course MBA. He helped me build a financial model, something that I was incredibly intimidated by before we dug into it, as well as teach me to speak the lingo. The business world has its own way of speaking, and once you master the language people take you much more seriously!
What do you see for the future of Machines for Freedom now?
I see so much potential! The sheer fact that this partnership happened is such a huge change of tides in our industry. It wasn’t that long ago that companies didn’t see the value in investing in the women’s market, and now, not only are they investing in women’s product and story-telling, but one of the largest cycling companies in the world just invested in female leadership in a very real way. It’s a shift in focus that will get more women on bikes and I’m thrilled that Machines and Specialized get to be at the forefront of this change.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs just starting out?
I would say build your support system – family, friends, advisers, mentors – because you will need it. Entrepreneurship can be lonely at times so it’s important that you find at least one or two people that have been on that journey.
Second, know your end game. Is your goal to run a small business for 10+ years so that you have the freedom of self-employment? Do you want to build something big and sell? Know your end game because that will inform the decisions you make along the way.
Funded in part by The REI Foundation’s Mary Anderson Legacy Grant, Camber Outdoors launched Pitchfest in 2015. The program has been supported through annual sponsorship; Perkins Coie and Backcountry.com were the Pitchfest 2017 sponsors. Pitchfest continues to support and accelerate women’s leadership and participation in the outdoors, providing the opportunity for women founders to live-pitch their business plans at Outdoor Retailer.
Learn more about Pitchfest 2018, set to take place at Outdoor Retailer on July 22.