pioneersPitching your new business idea to a friend over lunch, or explaining it to your parents at home can be exciting and nerve-wracking — but imagine flying to Sir Richard Branson’s home in Oxfordshire, UK, and selling your latest 3D printing business concept to him in person — in hopes of winning funding for your startup. Six individuals had the privilege of doing just that this year at Pitch to Rich, with two 3D printing entrepreneurs in the mix. All were hoping to win the grand prize for startup funding, but there were other awards offered as well.

Pitch to Rich is a competitive platform for young entrepreneurs, offered annually, as part of the Virgin Media Pioneers Initiative created by Branson. Out of hundreds of applicants with ideas, this year six total entrepreneurs were chosen in the two categories of startup and innovation. They attended the competition this past May at Branson’s home, and were able to pitch the products they thought could have a positive impact on the world. While each presenter seemed to be well-received, there were a couple of standouts: two 3D printing entrepreneurs were featured in the lineup with Carl Thomas and his Audiowings headphones, and Chris Thorpe with his ‘I Can Make’ product.

Richard BransonThis year was the third year for Pitch to Rich, sponsored by Virgin, and meant to ‘help give young entrepreneurs get a leg up,’ according to Branson, who would like to see the contest spawn companies similar to Virgin in the future.

The contest is not just about winning, but is also about mentoring, and about giving growing entrepreneurs the chance to practice giving their pitches in front of neutral parties who may be able to give crucial input before young companies have made big, expensive mistakes.

“The success of Virgin has been born out of disrupting the natural order to see what good can be done by doing business differently. This year, Pitch to Rich has showcased even more innovative businesses and it has been wonderful to meet the bright minds behind these ideas,” said Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group.

The contestants this year were:

Start Up Pitches

  • Carl Thomas with Audiowings, a 3D printed ‘smart’ headphone system
  • Igor Rubets with Boxhug, offsite pickup and delivery of storage containers (hugs included)
  • Littija Lee with Peco Poncho, disposable rain ponchos

Innovation Pitches

  • Chris Thorpe with I Can Make, 3D printed educational models for kids
  • Carl Thomas with miPic, offering a venue for photographers and artists to sell their smartphone images
  • Jamie Grant with Lines, ski boots featuring sensors which offer the ability to give virtual reality lessons

Carl Thomas, a charismatic young entrepreneur, was first in giving his pitch to Branson and the other judges for his smart headphones, ‘Audiowings,’ which had me sold right away, as I join the crowds who are weary of battling cords and peripheral devices while trying to listen to music.

AudiowingsAudiowings are a 3D printed product that feature wireless headphones — the perfect solution for anyone who likes to go to the gym and rock out, or be mobile with their music without unwieldy cords, or having to be tethered to another device, like a smartphone.

The prototype was 3D printed by UK-based design consultancy Ignitec, which used a Stratasys Objet Pro 3D printer to make components for the device.

Thomas had Branson’s interest right away — and obviously an innovation that works with music was a good product to put in front of him. Branson asked detailed questions about the engineering of the 3D printed headphones, and Thomas explained that he had designed the headphones and the inner circuit. With a 3G WiFi interface, the user can download music, upload their own music, and avoid all the cords or another device that constrain your movement. Thomas explained that since he created his design, several other competitors have come along, but with a patent pending he is hoping for some protection there. The judges seemed impressed and satisfied that his product is quite unique.

Chris Thorpe was fourth in line to present his 3D printed startup idea ‘I Can Make’ to the judges, emphasizing the importance of educational resources and content for children and families. With the educational 3D models he wants to make available for families and teachers to 3D print, he hopes to inspire ‘inventors and engineers of the future.’

While Thorpe’s presentation was rather brief and fell a bit flat, the goals for his product are interesting, and the panel was very enthusiastic about 3D printing. One judge had great concern about pricing and whether or not the average family can actually afford to 3D print educational items at home. Thorpe did of course explain that prices are dropping for 3D printers, but that he sees the biggest expense as being in the content, which they will provide.

I Can Make would be making the ‘content’ available from their online store, and then would also sell a retail package with filament and download cards to be available in stores that sell 3D printers and accessories.

Carl Thomas at Pitch 2 RichIn a tie, the People’s Award was given to both Carl Thomas, for Audiowings, and Carl Thomas, miPic entrepreneur — with the striking coincidence that yes, both young men do indeed share the same name. Both People’s Award winners won access to a mentoring program ‘from top business minds.’

“The award is a real validation of what we are doing from people who could potentially be purchasers of our headphones. And it was really good to meet the judges and pick their brains on the challenges they faced and overcame,” said Thomas of Audiowings.

Thomas hopes for his Audiowings product to be out early next year, as he works with Ignitec to get the product ready for production and sale. (You can keep up to date on the Audiowings website for announcements.) “When we were first approached with the concept of Audiowings and briefed on its prototyping requirements, we instantly knew that 3D printing would be the answer,” said Ben Mazur, director of Ignitec.

“Quality is paramount and is the driving force behind all of our projects. We printed the headphones in a durable rigid opaque grey material [VeroGrey], not only enabling us to perfect the look and feel, but also perform ergonomic testing with the user’s comfortability always integral to this development,” said Mazur.

The winners were as follows, in order of first prize:

  1.  The Boxhug storage business won first prize with the Start Up Award.
  2.  miPic won the Innovation Award.
  3. The public vote for the ‘People’s Award’ was split between Audiowings and miPic.
L-R Winners at Pitch 2 Rich 2014 Igor Rubets, Richard Bransen, Carl Thomas, Carl Thomas

L-R Winners at Pitch to Rich 2014: Igor Rubets, Richard Bransen, Carl Thomas, Carl Thomas

“The winners really stood out for their ingenious businesses. I’ve all sorts of stuff lying around which could really benefit from Boxhug’s storage service and miPic is an impressive way of creating art dealers out of all of us. I am delighted to help champion their vision,” said Branson.

virgin logoNot only is it inspirational to see a maverick like Sir Richard Branson achieve such massive success, it’s doubly inspiring watching him give an audience and a platform to young people with great ideas, exhibiting the sort of entrepreneurial and creative drive he encompasses himself.

What do you think of the 3D printed products and ideas submitted in the contest? Have you participated in any competitions or platforms where you had to give a pitch for your own product? Share with us in the Pitch to Rich Competition forum at 3DPB.com.

3D printed prototype of Audiowings headphone frame, produced using the Stratasys Objet30 Pro 3D Printer

3D printed prototype of Audiowings headphone frame, produced using the Stratasys Objet30 Pro

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