[caption id="attachment_206682" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Alchemize Fightwear is a 2-year-old company founded by a University of Delaware grad that aims to cater to women in mixed martial arts. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ALCHEMIZE FIGHTWEAR[/caption]
NEWARK – In a unique competition year, Alchemize Fightwear topped the slate of ideas submitted in the 2020 Hen Hatch startup competition.The final judging of Hen Hatch, which is open to entrepreneurial University of Delaware students, was held virtually Dec. 3, featuring six undergraduate finalists pitching their startups to a judging panel that included Lynn-Ann Gries, principal of Gries Consulting; Carolyn Groobey, investor/advisor of FounderTrac; Rick Kahlbaugh, chairman, president and CEO of Fortegra; and David Warnock, CEO of Camden Partners.
[caption id="attachment_206684" align="alignleft" width="400"]Maya Nazareth, a Class of 2020 UD grad, was the top Hen Hatch winner in 2020. | PHOTO COURTESY OF UD[/caption]
Alchemize Fightwear, founded by Maya Nazareth, a Class of 2020 economics and international business grad, was awarded $11,033 as well as 10 hours of professional accounting work from Belfint, Lyons, and Shuman valued at $2,500. Her company also won Hen Hatch’s Audience Choice Award for Most Commercial Viability, which came with $1,000 in startup funding.The impetus for Alchemize came a few years ago after Nazareth recognized that she wanted to start a small business online and was looking for a market for which she was knowledgeable. Having practiced jiujitsu for about five years, Nazareth knew that women were a growing segment of the mixed martial arts (MMA) space, but they aren’t particularly targeted by vendors who produce equipment for it.“I hated the gear. I just didn't feel attractive when I was wearing it. I was always self-conscious; it didn't fit my body right. I started talking to my friends and I realized, ‘Wow, this is a problem for everyone,’” she recalled.But Nazareth said she didn’t know anything about how to start a business. She began by reading entrepreneurship books and listening to podcasts, and then sketched out a roadmap for what became Alchemize in May 2018. She hired contractors to do the graphic design and product development work, producing a few hundred rash guards – a breathable fabric shirt that quite literally helps prevent rashes in the ground grappling-heavy sport.Nazareth has since primarily promoted the brand through social media, using Facebook groups dedicated to women in MMA to connect with customers and giving away products to athletes and social media influencers to help raise awareness. To date, she estimates that Alchemize has sold about 200 pieces for about $10,000.Between the Hen Hatch prize and a potential investor, she expects to be able to expand her offerings and begin some paid advertising next year.“I just haven't had capital to invest into the development and manufacturing of 500 or 1,000 pieces from somewhere like China or Pakistan. So, I'm really happy about the money, because now I have enough capital to launch a line,” she said.Nazareth said that she sees a big growth potential for the company, as MMA is exploding in popularity behind the expansion of the UFC and jiujitsu is one of the few MMA disciplines where women can compete against men.“It's about leverage and technique,” she explained. “In MMA striking, if a guy hits you in the face is going to hit you harder than a girl can hit you in the face, but with Brazilian jiujitsu the playing field is really even. So, that's attracted a lot of women to the sport.”With a boost of attention, Nazareth intends to put her efforts behind the company full-time.“I want to be the No. 1 women’s MMA gear line. I think MMA is where yoga was 20 years ago, when it was this really tiny niche thing,” she said. “Now every woman in America wears yoga pants to go to the grocery store.”Finishing second in total value for Hen Hatch’s post-revenue track was Backyard Gig, a gig work application that connects residents with college students founded by Suryanuj Gupta and Shahroze Ali, which was awarded $5,883 and 20 hours of business consultancy from Placers valued at $12,000. Third was GetPotluck, an on-demand ethnic grocery delivery service founded by Hope Vega and Abu Kamara, which was awarded $3,733 as well as 10 hours of legal work from Devlin Law Firm LLC valued at $5,000. It also won the Audience Choice Award for Most Socially Responsible Venture, receiving $1,000 in startup funding.Topping the the pre-revenue track was Nuvensus, a data-driven real estate investment firm founded by Markos Zerefos, Henry du Pont, and Mason Faust, was awarded $1,000 as well as 10 hours of professional accounting work from CPA firm Belfint, Lyons, and Shuman valued at $2,500. It was followed by CyberSecLabs, a cybersecurity teaching platform founded by Casey Rock, Dylan Martin, and Jason Reynolds, that was awarded $2,050 and Blue Tusk Biotechnology, a data consultancy for the food processing and handling industry founded by John-Carlos Saponara, was awarded $1,300.By Jacob Owens