We had the opportunity to take in the San Francisco launch of “Ahead of the Fashion,” an accelerator program for technology start-ups in the consumer, fashion and retail industries. The event provided a forum for early-stage companies in fashion and related industries to describe their ventures to a panel of business people and a standing-room-only crowd including investors, entrepreneurs, models, designers, members of the media and fashionistas.

Six company founders presented and the evening was capped off with a three-designer fashion show, and they all explained the innovation direction they were taking, either in fashion or by applying technology to the fashion business. All nine presenters received feedback on their pitches while reaching potential investors in the audience.

Our take on such events is that presenters need a certain level of, well, bravery – along with a thick skin. It’s hard enough to condense the story of your new company – or maybe just the idea you have for a new company – into a 2-minute presentation. It’s even harder to give it in a room full of strangers. And harder still is standing there while the panel gives its feedback and scores you on a scale of 1 to 5. Yep, brave.

Speaking of the panel, the team at Keiretsu Forum and Ahead of the Fashion put together a group of accomplished professionals, which included Enrico Beltramini, who was an executive with Gucci; Liliana Nordbakk, a serial entrepreneur with experience in finance and technology; Wahid Tadros, whose varied experience includes retrofitting the San Francisco Bay Bridge and selling drapes online; Paul Weiss, with experience growing a range of emerging companies; Barry Gilbert, former CEO of Smith & Hawken and former president of the Sharper Image; and Joan Barnes, founder of Gymboree. Believe us when we say these bios are extremely abbreviated and all panelists offered great pointers.

Presenting companies and the CEOs who gave elevator pitches:

  • Oh! Shoes CEO Greg van Gasse: Changing the world of women's footwear with the creation of the first technology-driven healthy and fashionable high-heeled shoe.
  • Clikthrough CEO Jeff Geaman: Shop through video. Clikthrough technology enables viewers to click/touch the products, people and places they see in video.
  • Fitiquette CEO Andy Pandharikar: An e-commerce destination powered by virtual fitting room technology.
  • Astonish CEO Ryan Chua: An online and print platform for the fashion industry with an online monthly recurring subscription-based model.
  • Luxe Collective CEO Meaghan Rose: A subscription rental service for high-fashion jewelry.

The fashion show featured collections and presentations from Laly Designs founder Laura Moreno, BlacMera founder Yuliana Candra and Prima Jiva founder Salma Schempp.

Model for Laly Designs Model for BlacMera Model for Prima Jiva
Model for Laly Designs
(Photography by Rendy Lai: www.rendylai.com)
Model for BlacMera
(Photography by Rendy Lai: www.rendylai.com)
Model for Prima Jiva
(Photography by Rendy Lai: www.rendylai.com)


The full house included Willie Brown, who kicked off the event with some anecdotes about his own experience with emerging technology businesses, and Hap Klopp, founder of the North Face.

 Former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown kicked off the program  North Face founder Hap Klopp in attendance
Former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown
kicked off the program.
(Photography by Rendy Lai: www.rendylai.com)
North Face founder Hap Klopp in attendance
(Photography by Rendy Lai: www.rendylai.com)


So you’re probably wondering: how did these presenters perform? Overall pretty well (easy for us to say, right?). Did anyone fall on their face? No. Did they make enough of an impression on the audience to spark interest in potential investors? Maybe. Did they get good input from the panel? Definitely yes.