MORGAN BERMAN, founder and CEO of MilkCrate Philly, was wrapping up her pitch yesterday to a panel of big shots at the Forbes Under 30 Summit, a three-day gathering of young game-changers at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
MilkCrate, which has a mobile app to help people live more sustainably in neighborhoods, was one of five finalists selected to make a five-minute pitch - dubbed the "$400,000 Pressure Cooker" - to the panel, which included AOL founder Steve Case, Forbes Media CEO Mike Perlis and former venture capitalist Troy Carter, founder of Atom Factory.
The winner would get a $150,000 investment in his or her startup plus $250,000 in free advertising from Forbes.
Concluding her pitch, Berman, 29, of Fairmount, showed two slides. One displayed a mound of trash, traffic congestion and a child holding a glass of dirty water. A second slide showed a polar bear, and people in a green, urban environment and riding bikes. "We can move from a world that looks like this to one that looks more like this," she said.
Alas, neither MilkCrate nor a second Philly startup, TowerView Health, also a finalist, won the winner-take-all competition. (The judges picked a Los Angeles-based online marketplace for socially conscious consumers. The choice seemed to surprise the audience. Did the judges not realize they were in Philly?)
Nevertheless, Berman was not dismayed when asked about the experience. "I loved it, I love presenting MilkCrate," she said. "It felt so good to share what I'm doing with so many people."
Before the winner was announced, Berman had honed her normal pitch of 10 minutes down to five minutes - actually 4:17 by my count - with fewer slides. On Monday night, she had made another pitch to a network of female founders in Delaware.
After her pitch yesterday, the judges praised Berman's "passion" for MilkCrate.
When Perlis asked what kept her up at night, Berman didn't flinch. "Nothing," she said. When Case asked how her app would drive adoption on a broader scale, she said: "Good question," adding that the partnerships MilkCrate has cultivated with local organizations like the Sustainable Business Network, Clean Air Council and food co-ops - 2,000 listings in 20 lifestyle categories - could be replicated in other cities.
Berman said that just being a finalist gave MilkCrate a boost.
"This experience puts us in a stronger position, because we are raising money right now and this exposure does give some outside validation about what we're doing," she said. "It gives us more value as a company . . . which is going to help us raise the capital we need to build the next version of the app."
MilkCrate has until midnight tomorrow to reach its $20,000 crowdfunding goal (it's already raised $15,500) and is in the early phases of its seed-round fundraising.