Local Startups Awarded Over $75,000 at 2023 IdeaFunding Pitch Competition

Nov 14, 2023
Winners of the IdeaFunding 2023 Pitch Competition

IdeaFunding has played a significant role in the entrepreneurial landscape for over twenty-five years as Southern Arizona’s largest and longest running pitch competition. Co-led by Startup Tucson and the University of Arizona Center for Innovation (UACI) and presented by the Arizona Commerce Authority, Tucson’s own “Shark Tank” event is the result of months of preparation and pitching by local founders and supporters from Southern Arizona.

The IdeaFunding finals consisted of a day-long conference where over 400 investors, entrepreneurs, startups and students convened to empower the local startup ecosystem and accelerate entrepreneurship. The day showcased twenty-two Arizona companies on November 9 where they pitched in the final competition after narrowing from an original applicant pool of 120+ teams, previously facing multiple rounds of judging and completing robust mentorship sessions with UACI.

This year’s grand prize winner from the Main Stage, Berry Cultured, received $25,000 awarded by UAVenture Capital and a one-year program sponsorship with UACI.  The Main Stage winner was selected by a panel of state-wide accredited investors comprised of Fletcher McCusker, UAVenture Capital; Joann MacMaster, Desert Angels; Andy Lombard, Arizona Venture Development Corporation; and Chris Yoo, Xcellerant Ventures. The final Main Stage pitches were presented by Berry Cultured, BioBolt Medical, Carbon Utility, Ray Ray’s Sonoran Spirit Tea and The Earnest House.

The Main Stage prize was one of twelve at the event with over $75,000 in cash and prizes awarded to entrepreneurs within the startup ecosystem.

2023 IdeaFunding awardees included:

$25,000 and one year sponsorship with UACI Main Stage grand prize sponsored by UAVenture Capital and UACI awarded to Berry Cultured.

  • Berry Cultured is a lifestyle kids brand where culture and play are celebrated. Berry Cultured celebrates diversity in all shades and strives to preserve childhood wonder through cultural play. The startup offers beautiful, high-quality exclusive products ranging from gifts, crafts, toys, party supplies and stationery. Berry Cultured provides a world of imagination to delight and empower kids as they learn the beauty of who they are, the enchantment of unity and love through culture.

$5,000 and one year sponsorship with UACI Main Stage second place winner sponsored by Startup Tucson and UACI awarded to Ray Ray’s Sonoran Spirit Tea.

  • Cocktail Lab AZ creates and shares cocktail experiences via educational seminars, group activities, catering and craft drink mixers. The startup’s flagship product, Ray Ray’s Sonoran Spirit Tea, is a light, refreshing, carbonated hard tea. Ray Ray’s fills a space in the market that isn’t beer or a cocktail and celebrates the Sonoran Desert by including regional flavors in its tea. Better for you and the environment, Ray Ray’s is low calorie, low alcohol by volume, naturally gluten free and ready to drink, packaged in recycled aluminum and compostable six-pack rings.

$5,000 Social Impact Prize sponsored by United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona awarded to Xoco.

  • The Social Impact Prize aims to recognize the ways in which business, technology and entrepreneurship can address the grand challenges facing our world today. Prize winner, Xoco was created to serve as a resource and encourage families to explore bilingualism for their children ages 2-5. The startup accomplishes this through Spanish immersion bilingual playgroups, online resources for parents, and “at-home Spanish play activities.” During these playgroups, adult and youth leaders facilitate peer-to-peer Spanish conversations, all through fun activities and hands-on learning.

$5,000 Adelante Prize sponsored by Community Investment Corporation awarded to Berry Cultured.

  • The Adelante Prize supports diverse founders, such as women-owned and BIPOC-owned companies.

$1,000 Tech Launch Arizona Liftoff Prize awarded to Fringe Metrology.

  • The Tech Launch Arizona Liftoff Award supports companies founded by at least one University of Arizona student, faculty, staff member, or alumnus, or founded to commercialize an innovation developed by UArizona student, faculty, or staff member that has demonstrated success. Winner, Fringe Metrology builds easy to use, high resolution 3D scanning systems that are implemented cross-functionally from solar concentrators or communications and radio antennas, to casting molds or optics manufacturing.

$1,000 Tucson Artisan Food Prize sponsored by Tucson Foodie awarded to Ray Ray’s Sonoran Spirit Tea.

  • The Tucson Artisan Food Prize supports locally owned craft food and beverage artisans and purveyors from the Southern Arizona community.

$1,000 Sustainability Prize sponsored by Cox Conserves awarded to NexoTerra.

  • The Sustainability prize supports companies working to solve a problem related to improving environmental sustainability. Prize winner, NexoTerra is a waste-to-value company that repurposes plant waste into sustainable and valuable biobased materials and products. The flagship product will take cannabis and hemp waste to manufacture compostable grow cubes, an effective and sustainable rooting media for plants grown in hydroponic systems.

$1,000 People’s Choice Award sponsored Startup Tucson awarded to The Earnest House.

  • The People’s Choice awardee was selected from the pool of Main Stage finalists and determined through live votes produced by the audience in attendance for the IdeaFunding 2023 Main Stage event.  Winner, The Earnest House is a transitional living program, housing individuals after incarceration, treatment and/or homelessness. The company provides safe, sober homes and resources to address the housing gap for individuals returning to society. The Earnest House aims to be the bridge clients need to progress toward their life goals and creates distance from what holds them back by providing the following resources: 24-hour on-site staff, job lead assistance, help obtaining medical coverage and food stamps, transportation, and personal hygiene items as needed.

$2,500 Vertical Room Prizes awarded to each company below.

  • Tech and Bio Industry Vertical: Beyond Silicon, LLC
  • Food Industry Vertical: Tucson Tea Company
  • Consumer Products and Services Industry Vertical: Originals by Eva
  • Software as a Service Industry Vertical: BreatheEV

Alongside the cash prizes, several community awards recognizing Southern Arizona based outstanding entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders were presented.

The Larry Hecker and Sherry Hoskinson Community Builder Awards which recognize outstanding contributions to supporting entrepreneurs in Southern Arizona were given to the following:

  • Bright Futures Community Builder Award: Gabrielle Morlock, Snell & Wilmer
  • Lasting Community Builder Award: Doug Hockstad, Tech Launch Arizona

The Thomas R. Brown Entrepreneur Awards which recognize entrepreneurs that have had, or will have, a profound impact on our Southern Arizona economy and others were given to the following:

  • Outstanding Entrepreneur: Anthony Mulligan, Hydronalix
  • Rising Star Entrepreneur: Robert Futch, Delta Development Team

In addition to the presenting and prize sponsors, IdeaFunding 2023 was made possible thanks to the additional sponsors the Flinn Foundation; Hecker & Pew, LLC; Visit Tucson; Rio Nuevo, The University of Arizona FORGE Venture Advisors; Growth Partners Arizona; Thomas R. Brown Foundation; The University of Arizona McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship; Osborn Maledon; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona; Town of Oro Valley; and the Better Business Bureau.


About Startup Tucson  

Startup Tucson is 501(c)(3) nonprofit working to transform our region’s economy through entrepreneurship and education. Startup Tucson executes this mission by providing education and culture building programs and events to grow a high-impact entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem. You can find information about the organization and upcoming opportunities to engage at www.startuptucson.com. For questions or comments, please reach out to Liz Pocock directly at liz@startuptucson.com


About the UA Center for Innovation

The University of Arizona Center for Innovation (UACI) is a startup incubator network with outposts across the Southern Arizona region. For two decades, the program has directly served over 235 companies, impacting thousands of entrepreneurs who have attracted $105.8M in capital. This is done by providing access to people, programming, and places that help entrepreneurs take their companies from idea to market. With the mission to fuel the Arizona economy, UACI works to help scale science and tech-based startups under the scope of Tech Parks Arizona creating university-based economic impact. Tech Parks Arizona directs the UA Tech Park, the UA Tech Park at The Bridges and the University of Arizona Center for Innovation. The year 2023, marks the 20-year anniversary of UACI which is supported by the following sponsors: Spencer Fane; the University of Arizona Office of Research, Innovation & Impact; The Boyer Company; Arizona Cine Equipment; Startup Tucson; Caliber; the University of Arizona Eller College of Management McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship; Optics Valley; Perkins Coie; Tech Launch Arizona; the Town of Sahuarita; the University of Arizona BIO5 Institute; Diversified Print Solutions; WaFd Bank; the City of Tucson; Community Investment Corporation; Pima County Economic Development and Southwest Solutions.


Founded by Startup Tucson in 2015 and hosted every November in Downtown Tucson, TENWEST Impact Festival is a celebration of the growing innovation, creative and entrepreneurial ecosystems in Southern Arizona. Unique in its cross-industry approach, TENWEST showcases the connectivity between technology, entrepreneurship, creativity, culture and impact, uniting attendees to gain the knowledge and inspiration they need to innovate within their own careers and communities. The weeklong event welcomes thousands of diverse attendees to participate in a multi-day conference, Street Fest, nightly xEvents and numerous partner events and experiences. IdeaFunding was day six of the TENWEST Impact Festival by Startup Tucson and presented by the Arizona Commerce Authority, Pima Community College and Arizona Arts Live. Produced by Ranch House Media the festival welcomed over 1,300 conference attendees and thousands more to the community Street Fest, all having an opportunity to experience and inquire about the entrepreneurial journey in Southern Arizona. To learn more about TENWEST, IdeaFunding and how Startup Tucson and UACI can support you in launching your business in Southern Arizona, visit TENWEST.com