Meet the CBK Ventures Pitch Competition Winners

Coded by Kids
Coded by Kids
Published in
8 min readJan 30, 2023

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Held during Innovation Weekend, the second CBK Ventures Pitch Competition showed how much tech talent is in Philadelphia.

Rohan Brown, Kirthika Parmeswaran, Himza Jivani. (Chris Kendig Photography)

The CBK Ventures Pitch Competition, an initiative from 1Philadelphia, Coded by Kids, Plain Sight Capital, and the City of Philadelphia, offers underrepresented Philly entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their idea and secure the funding that will bring their tech-based startups to the next level.

During Innovation Weekend, our finalists did an amazing job pitching their vision for our judges. We are so excited to share more about our winners.

1st Place: Himza Jivani, Paytus

Himza Jivani presenting Paytus at the CBK Ventures Pitch Competition (Chris Kendig Photography)

The self-described engineer by education, problem solver by habit, and entrepreneur at heart, Himza Jivani won the CBK Ventures Pitch Competition with her startup Paytus.

Jivani has always had a passion for entrepreneurship and was lucky to have parents who encouraged and supported her. “I remember missing school to get some local business clients for my first web design company… and instead of being angry with me for doing so, my dad helped me open my first bank account to deposit a check from my first client.”

From a technical perspective, Paytus provides credit unions the ability to process real time payments, and is built on a new technology that the Federal Reserve is launching. To describe how it works, Jivani likes to use the analogy of a railway system. “The Fed is building out these really cool new magnetic rails, called FedNow, and Paytus is building a magnetic train to run on these rails. It’s Paytus’ job to make the best possible train for its customers.”

Learning from her experience as a small business owner who struggled with the inefficiency of payments and transaction costs, Jivani knew that her next venture would be focused on solving the problem with B2B payments for other small business owners.

Looking for feedback, connections, and of course the chance of winning, Jivani finished the pitch competition with all three. “No matter the outcome of the competition, I’ve always been able to reach out to the judges and ask them for feedback…and sometimes, during the pitch they ask me questions I’ve not considered — and that’s a great way to improve my startup model.”

“It goes to show that the world is changing, and there are more organizations and groups trying to help underrepresented founders.”

Not only winning, but even the chance to enter this pitch competition means a lot to both Jivani and her team. “It goes to show that the world is changing, and there are more organizations and groups trying to help underrepresented founders.”

2nd Place: Kirthika Parmeswaran, Vital Start Health

Kirthika Parmeswaran presenting Vital Start Health at the CBK Ventures Pitch Competition (Chris Kendig Photography)

Having gone through postpartum depression with her first child, Kirthika Parmeswaran, a University of Pennsylvania Wharton alum, is passionate about addressing this issue through innovation, technology and affordability. This passion led to her founding Vital Start Health, a platform for personalized reproductive and maternity wellness using virtual reality.

“Our strategic vision is to be the fifth vital sign. Just like we have pulse, respiratory rate, body temperature, body pressure, we are looking to be that vital sign for well being.” Seeing growing issues with maternal healthcare in the United States, Vital Start Health wants to address the gaps using high tech robotics and analytics combined with the human element in a very balanced way.

Excited about CBK Ventures’ focus on equity and promoting STEM in the underrepresented population, Parmeswaran entered the pitch competition with the hopes of obtaining funding. After winning second place, they plan to use the prize money to build a program study at a leading NICU in Philadelphia. Learning from their patients about what they need and how they engage with the tool, this study will give Vital Start Health the clinical evidence they need to go after B2B customers.

What advice does Parmeswaran have for other underrepresented founders? “Don’t take no as a no… you will get to a yes.” She encourages founders to keep evolving, change your business model, look at it from different angles, pivot if you need to.

3rd Place: Rohan Brown, Barley

Rohan Brown presenting Barley at the CBK Ventures Pitch Competition (Chris Kendig Photography)

Rohan Brown moved to Philadelphia ten years ago to attend LaSalle University on a basketball scholarship and has been here ever since. After graduating with his MBA in Finance, Brown worked for an investment firm before deciding to start Barley — a rewards program for alcohol brands. The startup collects data and builds loyalty for these brands through membership communities, all while providing rewards for their members like drink vouchers, a VIP experience at a concert or even table service at their favorite nightclub.

Looking to get on the radar of Plain Sight Capital, Brown used his competitive nature and entrepreneurial talent to enter and place third in the pitch competition. Very appreciative of the opportunity, he plans to use the prize money to increase their membership base. “We currently have about 7,000 members within our community and we’re trying to get to about 20K by the end of February,” Brown said. “So all of the money that we were able to get from this competition is going to go towards getting more members.” More members means more value to the brands they work with, which is a big win for Barley’s growth.

“It’s not easy for us to raise funds just because of the networking discrepancies but you gotta make sure that you’re prepared for any opportunity that comes down the pipeline.”

When asked what advice he has for other underrepresented founders, Brown encourages them to put themselves out there. “It’s not easy for us to raise funds just because of the networking discrepancies but you gotta make sure that you’re prepared for any opportunity that comes down the pipeline and never psych yourself out … [or] think that you’re not far enough or not ready to enter a pitch competition. Apply anyway and prepare yourself.”

Emerging Founder: Pedro Moore, Funding Fuel

Pedro Moore presenting Funding Fuel at the CBK Ventures Pitch Competition (Chris Kendig Photography)

Pedro Moore is a serial entrepreneur and has served as a venture capital advisor to investors like Daymond John of Shark Tank. He entered the CBK Ventures Pitch Competition because of the connection to Plain Sight Capital and Alex King. “[King] is a great resource as he wants to help diverse founders build great companies,” Moore said.

So what is Funding Fuel? The emerging startup helps small businesses scale up in revenue by matching them with like-minded investors or partners with relevant experience that can provide capital, mentorship, operational support and introductions. What’s next for the company? Moore plans to use the prize money to onboard new users and ramp up marketing efforts like a website redesign, create SEO content, and invest in tech tools to help with prospecting.

Emerging Founder: Jonathan Muruako, Fitalyst

Jonathan Muruako presenting Fitalyst at the CBK Ventures Pitch Competition (Chris Kendig Photography)

Jonathan Muruako is a First-Generation Nigerian-American who grew up in Mississippi and first attended the University of Pennsylvania as a Gates Millennium Scholar. After 10 years of post-secondary education at Penn, Muruako is building the accountability tool he wishes he always had. Now working on his third master’s in Nonprofit Leadership concentrating in Social Entrepreneurship, Muruako’s goal is to help students like himself overcome the achievement gap where only 10% of First-Gen students receive degrees within 6 years and 44% drop out. Fitalyst provides students with actionable academic and wellness insights.

“With this journey I hope to try again, fail again, and fail better with every opportunity.”

Looking for experience, Muruako entered the pitch competition to practice and grow. “As a student-entrepreneur, I look at all pitch competitions as an opportunity to sharpen my founder skills…With this journey I hope to try again, fail again, and fail better with every opportunity.”

Muruako is a perfect example of how important it is to invest in underrepresented founders. When asked what advice he has for others, he said to stay in your lane. “This allows you to truly understand your unique perspective on a problem space that speaks to you… and bet on yourself to execute because you know you are the best/only person to get the job done!” Muruako is using his unique perspective to help First-Generation students like him be better prepared for higher education.

Thank You to the Judges

Judges: Roze McDevitt, Tempest Carter, Xavier Friel, Blessy Thomas, and Rudy Ellis (Chris Kendig Photography)

Not only do our CBK Ventures Pitch Competition founders have a chance to win capital for their startups, they also gain access to experienced professionals in the field. In addition to deciding the winners, our judges also provided feedback, advice and connections to our founders. Thank you to Roze McDevitt (Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania), Tempest Carter (City of Philadelphia Commerce Department), Xavier Friel (Plain Sight Capital), Blessy Thomas (Innovate Capital Growth), and Rudy Ellis (Switchboard Live) for supporting Philadelphia’s underrepresented tech founders.

“Exposure is key and events like the Pitch Competition, Innovation Weekend, and Founders Breakfast — these are things that are necessary and I am happy to be a part of this in the city of Philadelphia.” — Rudy Ellis, CEO of Switchboard Live and CBK Ventures Pitch Competition Judge.

Through the work of 1Philadelphia, the City of Philadelphia, Coded by Kids, and Plain Sight Capital, we are proud to host the CBK Ventures Pitch Competition which provides funding and technical resources for Philadelphia-based Black and Brown tech founders. Our mission is to identify and support tech-enabled startups in Philadelphia run by underrepresented individuals.

Special thanks to all of our Pitch Competition sponsors, including City of Philadelphia Department of Commerce, Spring Point Partners, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies (PACT), Venture for America, and Comcast NBCUniversal for supporting Philly’s tech entrepreneurs.

Want to learn more about 1Philadelphia? Visit our website and sign the membership pledge.

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Coded by Kids
Coded by Kids

Philadelphia-based nonprofit preparing underrepresented young people to succeed as tech and innovation leaders through project-based learning and mentorship.