Blog

Beth Cole

Assistant Director, Discovery & Insights

Startup Pitch Competition: Reverse Pitch MKE

Topics: Cream City Labs.

When companies become aware of challenges that affect their business or industry, they usually consult an internal team of subject matter experts for solutions. Reverse Pitch MKE adapts this scenario to tap into innovative ideas from outside of the organization. This annual startup pitch competition presents challenges from Milwaukee-based companies that want to partner with entrepreneurs for the chance to co-develop a solution in exchange for funding, mentorship and other resources. In this article, we'll break down everything you need to know about Reverse Pitch MKE, from why large organizations like Northwestern Mutual participate to why creative entrepreneurs should get involved.

What is Reverse Pitch MKE?

Since 2017, a select number of Milwaukee-based enterprises have participated in Reverse Pitch MKE by sharing unique business challenges for local entrepreneurs to solve. Each organization may choose a winning idea that best addresses their challenge, and winning teams can receive cash prizes, seed investment, legal support and access to additional resources to help them build their product or business. Winning startups have the chance to co-develop potential solutions with the organization that selects their idea. During this time, entrepreneurs gain experience working with a prominent company in their target industry with mentorship from advanced subject matter experts. Access at that level is invaluable to a new startup and can provide insight and support toward building a product that will stand out in the competitive marketplace.

This year, entrepreneurs will have a chance to earn a $10,000 prize, in addition to corporate and community mentorship. Winners will also receive more than $8,000 of in-kind service donations provided by Aurora WDC, Godfrey and Kahn, Serendipity Labs and Trivium.

Northwestern Mutual provides winners*:

  • Cash prize of $10,000
  • Workspace in Cream City Labs
  • Access to subject matter experts and mentors
  • The ability to test ideas and products with potential customers
  • An opportunity for additional seed investment

Why Does Northwestern Mutual Participate?

Northwestern Mutual founded Reverse Pitch MKE in 2017 as another impactful avenue to support and grow the tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem in Wisconsin. Starting this year, the program is now owned by the MKE Tech Hub Coalition, a community organization dedicated to growing a vibrant tech and innovation network in Milwaukee.

Reverse Pitch MKE is mutually beneficial because participating organizations get to tap new ideas, support diverse perspectives across multiple communities and partner with winning teams to impact how solutions are built. It's a chance for large businesses with capital to advance the tech startup economy and provide access to relevant resources. Companies also get the opportunity to build a close relationship with a new startup that positions the organization to invest, if the startup is ready for said outside investment.

How to Participate

Attend the kick-off on October 27

Take part in a virtual session to hear an outline of the business challenges from executives and learn more about how to participate in the challenge. Afterward, additional conversations are encouraged during an in-person networking happy hour.

Videos of the pitches will be available for those who are unable to attend the kick-off live.

Register by November 17

Submit your interest to learn more about each of the challenges. You'll receive an invitation to attend information sessions and connect with subject matter experts to inform the build of your solution.

Apply by December 31

The full application – with your business and product idea – is due by December 31.

2022 Challenge Statements

Each participating organization has its own challenge statements for startups to choose from based on their expertise and interests. Other Milwaukee-based organizations participating in the 2021-2022 Reverse Pitch MKE event include the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network, Rockwell Automation and West Bend Mutual Insurance. This year, Northwestern Mutual has two challenges:

  1. Supporting Responsible Financial Representative Social Media Use
    Northwestern Mutual is seeking a way to support and guide our financial representatives in the use of social media platforms and applications. Financial representatives increasingly rely on social media to promote their business but not all social media platforms have the infrastructure to meet industry regulations. We seek a solution that will automate and streamline our process of identifying unintentional misuse and guiding our financial representatives towards approved social media tools.
  2. Expanding on our Relationship-Based Culture
    We have a strong history and culture centered around people and relationships. In our unique office environment, networks across the enterprise are fostered through informal lunches and coffee connections. We are seeking a solution that will continue to grow a stronger and more inclusive culture that serves the specific needs of a workforce dispersed over multiple campuses and home offices.

Advice for Entrepreneurs

Nathan Harris, co-founder and CEO of Ease, winner of Northwestern Mutual’s 2021 Reverse Pitch MKE event, shared this advice for entrepreneurs who are considering participating in the startup pitch competition:

"With Reverse Pitch MKE, you're trying to accelerate the goals of the organization and the startup synonymously, so when working with an enterprise, understand what integrations are a must, and which ones are nice-to-have. Whatever ambitious challenge you're applying for, make sure you can attain it. Be prepared to build a company from scratch.” – Nathan Harris, co-founder and CEO, Ease

Key Takeaways

Reverse Pitch MKE seeks solutions from entrepreneurs to solve challenges that require an outside, innovative perspective. This annual startup pitch competition provides a distinct platform for companies that are eager to accelerate their growth through the development of their business or product with the support and resources of a larger enterprise.

Northwestern Mutual is proud to partner with the MKE Tech Hub Coalition to advance the startup economy in southeast Wisconsin through opportunities that require innovation for co-developing technology.

Learn more about each challenge or register your interest by the deadline for this year's Reverse Pitch MKE.

*Prize winnings are subject to change and based on the discretion of Northwestern Mutual and Reverse Pitch MKE.

Exploring What Matters: Our Take on 2021 Innovation Trends

As we prepare to head into a new year, the Northwestern Mutual Innovation team outlines three themes that will be increasingly critical for our industry in 2021 and beyond.