WCS Talks Part 2- Pitch Competition

January 21, 2021

2021 Pitch Competition Winner!

Congratulations to Laureen Meroueh, CEO of Alchemr, for winning our 3rd annual WCS Talks Pitch Competition!

“Alchemr is making green hydrogen a reality through a stable, large-scale, and ultra-low-cost water electrolyzer.”

We’re proud of all of our contestants Melody Brenna, Madeline Miller, Lindsey Hoell, Kristin Sampayan, Susan Blanchet, and look forward to watching you all make strides within your industries.

Stay tuned for details for the next  Pitch Competition Event in 2022!

Each year, WCS hosts a startup pitch competition focused on spotlighting companies led by women, either as CEOs or in the C-suite. This year the competition will be a stand-alone event as a part of the WCS Talks Virtual Series on January 21st, 2021.

Meet the Finalists

These women were selected to pitch their innovative cleantech or sustainable-focused business idea to a panel of industry leaders. The finalists will have 5 minutes on the virtual stage followed by 3 minutes for Q&A from the judges. The winners will be announced towards the end of the conference just before the audience gets a chance to cast their vote. Learn more about their start-up pitch below.


Susan Blanchet 
Origen Air Systems Ltd.
Founder & CEO

Start-Up Pitch: More than 80% of people breathe indoor air exceeding pollution limits which over time can cause serious damage to the lungs, liver, kidneys and nervous system as well as death. According to data from the World Health Organization, poor air quality causes the premature death of 5.5 to 7 million people each year. With the rise of COVID-19, indoor air cleanliness is becoming a necessary health consideration.

Origen Air is a clean-tech startup positioned to revolutionize air filtration technology for the sake of the environment, human health, and wellbeing. Our patent-pending enhanced pothos ivy, developed over 15+ years at the University of Washington, removes volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as chloroform and benzene. We have free-standing room dividers and are developing HVAC-integrated roof-top gardens that purify indoor air using a combination of our enhanced plants, filtration technology, UV-C lighting, and probiotics. We are also developing a user-friendly app that will show users the levels of VOCs present in the air and raise awareness about the dangers.

We are on a mission to revolutionize air purification and are the only health-tech company with genetically modified plants engineered to remove pathogens. Our design not only improves health, wellness, productivity, and safety through cleaner air, but also saves energy and reduces buildings’ carbon footprints in comparison to traditional air filtration systems.

Website: https://www.origenair.com


Kristin Sampayan, 
Opcondys, Inc.

Start-Up Pitch: Opcondys is bringing a new class of electrical power switching device to market for use in a wide variety of high voltage equipment for the electrical grid and other applications. It will reduce energy losses in these resources by 50% and enable smaller, lighter, more energy efficient renewable energy inverters, grid tied energy storage and transmission and distribution converters. This saves end users both capital and operating costs and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The technology behind our innovative device, the OTV, was developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Opcondys was formed to develop commercial products that leverage this technology to improve energy efficiency in delivering electricity to a population with increasing need. The OTV controls kilovolt levels of electricity in a single device as opposed to the 10’s or even hundreds required now at a price comparable to existing solutions. We have demonstrated control of 20 kilovolts in benchtop testing which is 3 times higher than any device on the market. The OTV is now at TRL 4, with a demonstration module nearing test. Following successful testing, beta products will be available for third party validation in early 2021.

Website: http://www.opcondys.com


Laureen Meroueh

Start-Up Pitch: Hydrogen can decarbonize many difficult industries, such as transportation and the chemicals sector. However, today, almost all hydrogen is made from cheap fossil fuels, contributing to more than 2% global greenhouse gas emissions.

Alchemr is introducing a stable and scalable electrolyzer that uses intermittent renewable power to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Our water electrolyzer enables reduced economic curtailment of renewable energy for power producers and provides low-cost green hydrogen for hydrogen consumers. With our alkaline exchange membrane water electrolyzer, Alchemr can produce green hydrogen at the same cost as today’s dirty hydrogen. Our CAPEX is 4x less than our competitors. This is because our electrolyzer does not require any noble metals, unlike our competitors, and we can scale our electrolyzer to serve a 100+ MW plant. The ability to produce green hydrogen at the same cost as today’s dirty hydrogen enables us to decarbonize the chemicals sector without requiring our customers to pay a premium, unlike our competitors in the green hydrogen space.

Website: http://www.alchemr.com/


Melody Brenna 
Reef Life Restoration

Start-Up Pitch: The problem: The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 50% of the world’s reefs are damaged beyond repair and that another 70% are under serious threat.

The Solution: Reef Life Foundation/restoration’s artificial reef system, named IntelliReefs, acts as an enhanced substrate, specifically engineered to promote marine species biodiversity through site specific material substrates. Introduce IntelliReefs into dying or at-risk reefs as a means of increasing fish aggregation, coral spawn settlement and species biodiversity; fostering the exponential growth of coral reef systems.Thriving reef systems demand a diverse set of habitat requirements, and the physical properties of regular cement substrates cannot accommodate these marine organism needs.

Oceanite is a complex matrix of minerals, developed specifically for diverse coral growth and immediate integration with local eco-systems. It is composed of proprietary marine mineral matrices that include high-grade limestone, aragonite, and diverse pozzolanic (calcium binding) components at nano-scale. IntelliReefs are bio-inspired marine structures made with Oceanite. They are formulated from twenty years of nano-materials expertise guided by leading coral laboratories.

Thriving reef systems demand a diverse set of habitat requirements, and the physical properties of regular cement substrates cannot accommodate these marine organism needs. IntelliReef units assemble and grow intuitively, enabling year-to-year, block-by-block coral species expansion. Each can be outfitted with a specific, novel growth formulation. Exposed aggregates on IntelliReefs include small pockets where biodiverse coral larvae can attach, be protected and grow. Our substrates are engineered for centuries of durability.

Reef Life Restoration owns the IP & Patents for “Oceanite” We are the ONLY entity worldwide who can grow corals reefs in 12 months (normally takes 100-200 years).

Website: https://www.ReefLifeRestoration.com


Madeline Miller


Start-Up Pitch: NexTiles is a Detroit-based textile recycling and secondary use company, specializing in manufacturing eco-friendly building insulation that can re-enter the circular economy at the end of its life.

The NexTiles vision uses textile waste from Detroit’s automotive and apparel manufacturing industries as feedstock for a circular building insulation material, and creates a retail arm for the resale of recycled textiles.

NexTiles will change lives for Detroiters by locally manufacturing building insulation to create clean jobs, decreasing the utility burden on families, increasing diversity in the energy industry, diverting textile waste from landfills, and contributing to the growth of the circular economy.

Website: https://www.nextiles.org/


Lindsey Hoell
Dispatch Goods
CEO and Co-Founder

Start-Up Pitch: We are drowning in packaging waste: it accounts for 40% all plastics produced. And with Covid-19 it only got… 4 times worse…

Dispatch Goods is a reverse logistics company that offers to alternatives single-use packaging. Our starting point is food takeout and delivery packaging that we replace by a closed-loop system: we supply restaurants with reusable containers, collect these from consumers, sanitize them, and restock restaurants. We are successfully operating in San Francisco with over a dozen restaurants, for food takeout and for deliveries with Doordash. We also work with big corps, such as Yelp, who want to solve the paint point of waste generated by their employees at lunch. Since we started, we have diverted over 8,500 containers from the landfill – that waste would have stacked higher than the Salesforce tower.

This is just the first step of what will become your 4th bin that will let us collect your reusables. We are now repurposing ice packs that come with your online groceries too! Customers are asking for reusables: we have been growing by 40% week-on-week, 70% of customers are ready to pay more for reusables vs single-use, more cities and employers are reaching out to us. Restaurants, food delivery apps, and grocery companies are asking for it too: we’ve got a waiting list for the months to come. If this problem of single-use packaging has not been solved yet, it is because of the lack of logistical infrastructure for a closed-loop system.

Dispatch Good is building this missing link, creating an infrastructure similar to recycling, but for reusables. We have already created a very strong network of restaurants and corporates and very robust logistics that allow us to process over 300/week, only slowed down by the initial investment in containers that forces us to pace our operations.

Website: https://dispatchgoods.earth/

Meet the Judges


Nneka Uzah
Elemental Excelerator
Director of Innovation

Nneka Uzoh is Director of Energy Innovation at Elemental Excelerator. She leads Elemental’s energy vertical and supports their energy portfolio companies on their path to scale, leveraging her experience incorporating innovation and new technology into PG&E and NextEra Energy Resources. She has a unique skill set in connecting disparate data sets to tell a story and creating inventive solutions to address the underlying issues. In her roles, she has successfully ushered billion-dollar deals and projects related to mergers and acquisitions, capital investments, energy and sustainability, customer strategy and experience, innovation, and organizational design. Nneka is passionate about the arts and sits on the board of a theatre company in San Francisco and paints for fun.


Baraba Russell
CapW Global

Barbara Dalton Russell co-founded Cap W – an Advisory/investment Banking firm focused on early/mid-stage tech-enabled companies, characterized by strong female and/or POC founders & teams, solving BIG problems with massive market opportunities. We advance the ability of companies principally focused on the AI/ML, VR/AR, ed-tech, clean-tech and fin-tech sectors to succeed through our model of investing and providing strategic advice that maximizes the ability of these companies to scale via targeted fundraising from optimal/inclusive strategic, venture, and other capital sources. 

Barbara serves on the board of several rapidly-scaling, early and mid-stage companies, providing advice fueled from her 28 years of experience in private equity, investment banking, M&A, and capital markets.  She also serves on non-profit boards including: Alliance for Business Leadership (ABL)and NFTE, both of which represent her progressive views on diversity and inclusion.


Amy Duffuor
Prime Impact Fund

Amy Duffuor is a Principal at Prime Impact Fund, with responsibility to identify and evaluate  investment opportunities, lead investments, and serve on the boards of portfolio companies.  Her professional background spans business, finance, and impact across three continents.  

Prior to Prime Impact Fund, Amy was a renewables and power investment banker at Bank of  America. There, she worked with CEOs of public and private companies to raise investment  capital including the IPO of Sunnova (NYSE: NOVA), a residential solar company valued at  approximately $1 billion. Before her stint on Wall Street, Amy ran early-stage social venture  accelerators around Southeast Asia for a Singapore-headquartered impact investing firm called  Impact Investment Exchange. Earlier in her career, Amy was a management consultant at State  of Flux, a London-based consulting firm that specializes in supply chain and procurement. She  serves on the board of directors for Clean Crop Technologies, a Prime Impact Fund portfolio  company. Amy holds a B.A. from Columbia University, an M.Phil with Distinction from the  University of Oxford, and an MBA from The Wharton School. 


Amy Francetic
Buoyant Ventures
Managing Director

Amy is founder and Managing General Partner of Buoyant Ventures, a new venture fund in Chicago that aims to invest in digital climate solutions for energy, transportation, agriculture, and the built environment. Her career spans over 20 years of high technology entrepreneurship, private equity, and research. Amy previously founded and led Energize Ventures, a $165mm venture fund that invests in digital technologies that optimize energy equipment and infrastructure. She oversaw the Fund’s investment activities and operations. She also co-founded and served as CEO of technology accelerator Clean Energy Trust, which has invested in dozens of early-stage clean energy companies across the Midwestern US. She remains involved and now serves as Chair of its Board of Directors. Amy also held roles at private equity firm MVC Capital, helping to open the Chicago office, and at Stanford Research Institute where she worked on an early version of the voice recognition technology that became Siri. Earlier in her career, she was co-founder and CEO of a consumer technology company that was funded by Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, and that she sold to the Danish toy company, Lego Systems. Amy also helped fundraise for mobile gaming company, GluMobile, on whose board she served until it went public on the NASDAQ.

In addition to the Clean Energy Trust board, Amy serves on the Advisory Board for the WISER Institute at the Illinois Institute of Technology. In 2020 Crain’s recognized her for the third time as one of Chicago’s Top 50 Technology Leaders. In 2019 she was honored by Streetwise as one of the “20 Most Inspiring Chicagoans.” In 2015 she was an Emerging Leader at the Chicago Council for Global Affairs. In 2014 she was awarded the Corporate Citizen of the Year Award from the Executives’ Club of Chicago, and Leading Woman in Technology from the Illinois Technology Association. Amy is a regular lecturer in energy and entrepreneurship at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago’s Law School. She has a BA from Stanford University.

Amy lives in Lake Forest, IL with her husband and two teenage daughters.


Time: 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm PT

4:00 PM Introduction
4:05 PM Rules of the game
4:10 PM Startup 1
4:15 PM Adult Judge Q&A 1
4:18 PM High School Judge Q&A 1
4:20 PM Startup 2
4:25 PM Adult Judge Q&A 2
4:28 PM High School Judge Q&A 2
4:30 PM Startup 3
4:35 PM Adult Judge Q&A 3
4:38 PM High School Judge Q&A 3
4:43 PM Startup 4

4:48 PM Adult Judge Q&A 4
4:51 PM High School Judge Q&A 4
4:53 PM Startup 5
4:58 PM Adult Judge Q&A 5
5:01 PM High School Judge Q&A 5
5:03 PM Startup 6
5:08 PM Adult Judge Q&A 6
5:11 PM High School Judge Q&A 6
5:13 PM Audience Vote
5:18 PM Breakout Room 1 4-5 people
5:30 PM Main Hub Room
5:35 PM Breakout Room 2 4-5 people
5:47 PM Winner Announcement
5:52 PM Closing