SHE HUSTLES x Startup Runway 2023 Celebrates Women Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs

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The air was humming as people poured into the Clyde Venue on Thursday for a summer SHE HUSTLES x Startup Runway event. SHE HUSTLES always has great attendance thanks to its vibrant crowd and close-knit community, and this time was no different with a sold-out evening. While SHE HUSTLES didn’t see a change in attendance, this event did bring something new to the table.

The doors opened at 5:30 pm, and before long more than 150 people were milling about. Attendees buzzed around the bar for a drink and a chance to cool down from the summer heat. Across the bar was another line of people waiting to descend on the delicious food made by the Hungry Vegan.

A busy event hall full of tables and people

The Clyde Venue was packed Thursday evening for the event

Reneé LaSalle, radio personality and host of the Coastal Spotlight for Cumulus Radio, emceed the event and got the evening rolling with a spirited introduction of The Creative Coast and Savannah SCORE. 

Caleb Kitchings noticed the number of people streaming in. Kitchings is a project manager focusing on technology and innovation at the Savannah Economic Development Authority, the annual platinum sponsor of SHE HUSTLES. “It’s events like these that help build the startup ecosystem for Savannah,” Kitchings says. 

He’s not wrong. This event is a chance for women entrepreneurs and leaders to network, learn, and inspire: something that Savannah SCORE Volunteer and serial entrepreneur Amy Shippy is familiar with and fosters through her work. Shippy followed Kitchings on the mic with an introduction of Sheri Butler, for Wells Fargo, a sponsor of SHE HUSTLES. “I love to see all these women in the room!” Shippy exclaimed. 

To be sure, there were a ton of leading ladies in attendance. But this SHE HUSTLES also brought in more men than usual. Enter Startup Runway. 

The Creative Coast and Savannah SCORE teamed up with The Startup Runway Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit out of Atlanta, Georgia, for a pitch competition showcase to kick off the evening. The Startup Runway Foundation connects investors to top startups led by underrepresented founders with a focus on women and founders of color. Four area businesses competed for the chance at two $10,000 prizes – one for the judge’s choice, and one for the audience’s. 

The contestants were… 

21st Startup Runway Showcase contestants and judges

The Startup Runway Judges and Contestants pose for a photo after the 21st Startup Runway Showcase. L to R: Kewaan Drayton (Red Eye Film Productions & Savannah Underground – Judge), Christine Flemming (VicTreeFi), Melanie DeFilippis (Oro Maternal Health), Lisa Calhoun (Judge – Valor Ventures), Mecca Tartt (Startup Runway Foundation), Micah King (The Animation TV Network), CJ Jackson (Performer Pocket), Bill Glenn (Fernwood Holdings, LLC – Judge), and Swann Seiler (Georgia Power – Judge)

Christine Flemming for VicTreeFi Moneyville

CJ Jackson for Performer Pocket

Melissa DeFilippis for Oro Maternal Health

Micah King for The Animation TV Network

Each competitor brought their business pitches up to the stage, in front of judges and attendees alike. The air was filled with anticipation during the competition, as founders did their best to make a case as to why their company should win. Judges asked cutting questions, peeling back the veil on each founder’s business to see what was making profits come in. The judges finally adjourned to discuss amongst themselves who made the best pitch, and the audience voted on their favorite as well. 

In the meantime, we dove straight into the SHE HUSTLES panel. 

Jessica Leigh Lebos moderated an insightful discussion between three local woman business leaders.

Malissa MacKay, senior manager for industry engagement at The Georgia Center of Innovation, discussed the increasing visibility and importance of the logistics industry following the pandemic. What once was “handled i

The SHE HUSTLES panel featured women leading in their communities, at non-profits, and at local institutions in Savannah. L to R: Jessica Leigh Lebos, Malissa MacKay, Mae Bowley, and LeAndrea Mikell. Photo Credit: Bunny in the City

n the back room, in the corner,” said MacKay, “is now the sexiest topic, it’s on the six o’clock news, you know, presidents and congressmen are talking about it.” What makes logistics important? “It’s Christmas. It’s how you get Christmas,” she says. The many conveniences we take for granted in modern life are only made possible because of the vast network of logistics working behind the scenes. MacKay, for her part, works on connecting vendors and shipping companies, engaging with the logistics industry to keep it all going smoothly.

Mae Bowley’s supply chain, Lebos remarked, is already here. Bowley started Re:Purpose Savannah, a non-profit that salvages high-quality historic construction materials from old buildings and gives them renewd purpose in new buildings. She told the story of one of her favorite projects: a woman on Coffee Bluff came to her after her mother’s house had been damaged under a fallen tree. In the process of disassembling the house, Bowley worked with her to discover the history of the house and the family. They determined that the family, who descended from former slaves, had been on the same piece of land for generations. When her client built her new house, Bowley was able to incorporate the materials of the old house into the new, respecting the history of the family and giving a daughter a way to connect with her late mother.

Chrissy Flemming of VicTreeFi holding the Startup Runway winning check.

Christine Flemming, of VicTreeFi, won the Audience Choice Award for her Moneyville paltform, which she and her cofounder Wheeler Flemming developed for the Girls Scouts.

Finally, LeAndrea Mikell, the Executive Director of Governmental Relations at Savannah State University, as well as serving on myriad boards and other projects in the community – Lebos only had enough breath to list off a few from the long list. How does she handle it all? She has a hard time saying no, but prides herself on setting boundaries between her work and home life. “When I go home and I’m with my daughter or my family, that’s where I am. When I’m here, I go hard at work. I go hard for the organizations I serve with, but I set really good boundaries.” Being a focused, efficient, and adaptable worker has allowed Mikell to become a connected member of the community and serve it well.

What do all of these panelists have in common? They agree they all work hard to serve their community and help people. This summer’s SHE HUSTLES panel was a great opportunity for women entrepreneurs to hear right from the source how women in the community are engaging as successful business leaders.

At the conclusion of the SHE HUSTLES panle, the results were in, and we waited with bated breath for the announcement of the Startup Runway winners.

CJ Jackson winning Startup Runway Judges Choice Award

CJ Jackson (right) accepts the Startup Runway $10k Judges Choice Award for his app, Performer Pocket. L to R: Mecca Tart (Startup Runway Executive Director), Swann Seiler (Georgia Power, and CJ Jackson (Performer Pocket).

First Georgia Power presented the Judges’ Choice Award, and the winner of the $10,000 prize was CJ Jackson. Jackson’s project, the Performer Pocket, is a pre-launch app that seeks to enhance the live music experience for performers and audiences, informed by his own experience as a DJ. He said of his win: “To see that it was so well received is just a blessing,” and he’s looking forward to using the funds for the Performer Pocket’s launch next week.

Next, the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation presented the Audience Choice Award of $10,000, and the audience selected Chrissy Flemming’s project, VicTreeFi Moneyville, as the winner. The platform helps Girl Scout troop leaders teach professional-led badge courses online. Flemming was “so thrilled and thankful and happy for all the support in the crowd,” and her husband and business partner Wheeler was equally grateful and proud of his wife’s excellent pitch.

With the winners announced, this special SHE HUSTLES x Project Runway event concluded. The evening was an inspiring time to hear four amazing startup pitches, learn from accomplished women leaders, and strengthen the community’s network of entrepreneurs.