Minneapolis-based Meda Names Six Winners in National BIPOC Pitch Contest
Alfredo Martel, president and CEO of Meda Provided photo

Minneapolis-based Meda Names Six Winners in National BIPOC Pitch Contest

Now in its third year, the Meda Million Dollar Challenge distributed $1.1 million to six Black-, Indigenous-, and People of Color-owned startups. One Minnesota company received a share of the money.
Alfredo Martel, president and CEO of Meda Provided photo

The Metropolitan Economic Development Association, an equity-focused nonprofit based in Minneapolis, on Wednesday announced the six winners of its third annual pitch competition for BIPOC entrepreneurs.

The winners, which included one Minnesota-based company, each earned a share of a $1.1 million prize package. Though Meda is based in the Twin Cities, the competition — known as the Million Dollar Challenge — is national. This year, the group received over 200 applications from startups across the country, said Alfredo Martel, Meda’s president and CEO.

In the finals round, there were 12 companies from five different states. Judges then picked six winners from that group. This year’s winners and their prizes were:

  • Industrack, a Plymouth-based company that provides software for field service management of contractors ($100,000)
  • Please Assist Me, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that has developed an operating system that connects apartment residents with personal assistants ($150,000)
  • Options MD, a Los Angeles-based health company that crafts personalized interventions for people struggling with depression and anxiety ($150,000)
  • Flourish Savings, a Berkley, Calif.,-based digital platform that uses games to help people build savings ($250,00)
  • Femly, a D.C.-based company that sells eco-friendly menstrual products ($250,000)
  • Mi Terro, an Industry, Calif.-based biotech firm that uses agriculture waste to develop degradable and compostable packaging ($300,000)

“This year, we had the most diverse cohort of finalists, in terms of ethnic groups and gender,” Martel said. “The fact that we have applications from all over the country tells us that folks are paying attention to this event.”

Three of the six winning companies are women-owned.

Like scores of other pitch competitions and events, this year’s Million Dollar Challenge took place virtually. As an organization, Meda has been operating in “virtual mode” for a year, so the switch to an all-virtual event was fairly seamless, Martel said.

But, unlike many other pitch competitions, the Million Dollar Challenge is run by a nonprofit organization instead of a venture capital group, private equity fund, or traditional financial institution. Martel noted that Meda was the first community development financial institution, or CDFI, to provide equity investments through a pitch competition.

“We’re very proud that we’re in the space of equity investments,” he said. “Our event is probably on par with other national events run by venture capital operations or institutions.”

This year’s judging panel included Michael Schulte, an investor with early-stage investment fund Great North Labs. Though Meda hasn’t released the names of the other judges, a spokeswoman said the panel was composed of a mix of “corporate, banking, venture capital and nonprofit industry leaders, primarily from Minnesota,” along with a few national names.

Past winners of the Million Dollar Challenge have included HabitAware, a St. Louis Park-based company that makes a wearable device aimed at curbing harmful behaviors like hair-pulling; along with Minneapolis-based Civic Eagle and Rochester-based Phenomix Sciences. HabitAware’s signature product — the “Keen” wristband — has been shipped around the world.