San Francisco-based Bunker was the winner of the Gig Economy Shark Tank Innovation Award, as voted by a panel of industry veterans and investors at Collaboration in the Gig Economy, while San Francisco-based Bonsai was voted “audience favorite.”

The session, modeled after the popular TV show “Shark Tank” on ABC, took place Sept. 14th in Dallas. It was designed to highlight innovations from technology firms around the workforce solutions ecosystem. Five finalists were selected by SIA staff from more than three dozen company submissions to present their business case to a panel of industry veterans and investors in front of a live audience (the room was standing-room only). Rounding out the five finalists were Gustav, Koru and Talentify. The panel of judges was comprised of Fabio Rosati, board member, investor, and former CEO Elance & Upwork; Jonathan Kestenbaum, managing director, Talent Tech Labs; John Nurthen, executive director, global research; Staffing Industry Analysts; and Raza Syed, director, corporate development and partnership, Indeed.

The founder of each firm had 10 minutes to “pitch” to the panel, and though no money changed hands, the goal was to convince the panel of the potential market opportunity for their product, why their company or solution was innovative and different, and describe the potential disruptive force it could have on the wider workforce solutions ecosystem and incumbent stakeholders.

The finalist lineup was a diverse group, in background, experience and products. Bonsai was founded by a former entrepreneur who had freelanced himself, and went on to create an online back office for freelancers to run their business and better manage contracts and collect invoices. Bunker was founded by an ex-insurance broker, who attempted to disrupt the process by making it easy and simple to get contractor insurance online, tailoring insurance products for independent workers and project-based work. The founder of Gustav moved from Austria to San Francisco, and graduated from Y-combinator — an accelerator that created a new model for funding early stage startups — after building an online system for frictionless VMS/MSP connecting small and midsize businesses with staffing suppliers. Koru’s AI-based assessments predict candidate success based on a personality assessment that goes beyond hard skills to determine what drives performance by role and team. Finally, Talentify described how its platform automates candidate sourcing from soup to nuts, potentially revolutionizing the RPO business in the process.

Companies Description Founder/presenter
Bonsai Online freelancer tools Matt Brown
Bunker Contractor insurance Chad Nitschke
Gustav Marketplace for staffing agencies Jan Jedlinski
Koru Predictive hiring Kristen Hamilton
Talentify Automated sourcing platform Othamar Gama Filho

The sharks were tough but fair in their questioning. “Your presentation was beautiful,” one shark started, “but tell me how you’re any different than a broker? I don’t see how you’re adding any value to the process.”

The Vote

There were two rounds of voting, an audience vote and a shark vote. Bonsai won the audience vote by a margin of just four votes, with Koru finishing second place, highlighting the competitive nature of the event itself and the quality of the presentations.

Shark voting was done via instant-run-off. In this voting system, each of the four sharks ranked the companies from 1 to 5. These results were then tabulated, with companies consecutively eliminated (making 2’s become 1s, etc.) until one firm received a majority of “1” votes. Under this method, Bunker won the competition, having received two “1” votes from the panel of sharks. Gustav and Koru were the other recipients of top votes from the remaining sharks, but it was not enough to put them over the top.

Many attendees found the session inspiring. Gene Holtzman, CEO of Mitchell Martin, expressed his thanks and appreciation to the group of five entrepreneurs who had opened themselves and their companies up during the session. During the closing remarks and discussion, shark Fabio Rosati, serial entrepreneur and former CEO of Elance and Upwork, described a time he heard legendary venture capitalist Marc Andreessen address a group of investors: “Marc wasn’t afraid to admit that each month his firm would rank what they thought were the top companies from one through 100 on who they thought would be the most likely to succeed, and often the No. 1 company one month was at the bottom of the list next month,” Rosati recalled. “So, let’s be clear that we’re under no illusion our vote means anything to you.” Rosati’s comment drew laughter from the audience.

With the Shark Tank behind them, the five finalists can move on to their real mission: continuing to advance their company and the workforce solutions ecosystem forward.