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Shoptalk 2023 “Shark Reef” Startup Pitch Competition: Recap—12 Innovators, Two Winners

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Coresight Research is a research partner of Shoptalk 2023, which is taking place March 26–29 in Las Vegas, US. Shoptalk is an annual retail conference focusing on the trends, business models and technologies that are shaping the future of retail.

On March 26, 2023, Coresight Research hosted the “Shark Reef” startup pitch competition at the convention Center’s Beacon Theater, which saw 12 early-stage US retail-technology innovators compete to win the Judges’ Choice and Audience Choice awards. We provide a recap of the pitch competition, with key insights from the startup presentations.

Shoptalk 2023—“Shark Reef” Startup Pitch Competition: Coresight Research Insights

Event Format and Judging Panel

The Shoptalk 2023 “Shark Reef” startup pitch competition was comprised of two rounds:

  • Round 1All competitors presented for three minutes on their innovative technologies.
  • Round 2Six finalists participated in a more in-depth, four-minute Q&A session.

Deborah Weinswig, CEO and Founder of Coresight Research, moderated the competition and participated as a member of the judging panel. Three expert judges joined Weinswig:

  • Anna Barber, Partner at M13
  • Brooke Kiley, Partner at VMG Partners
  • Matt Nichols, General Partner at Commerce Ventures
The judging panel: (left to right): Weinswig, Kiley, Nichols and Barber
Source: Coresight Research


Innovative Solutions Across Four Areas of Retail Disruption

Coresight Research categorizes the 12 startups into four areas of disruption in retail, as defined below.

1. New Ways To Engage Consumers

Retailers are increasing their degree of engagement with consumers via messages on social media platforms, providing inclusive imagery, enabling price negotiation and using clienteling to cater to key customers.

Companies: Drop, GoCharlie, Nibble, Reflekt Me

2. Innovative Video Applications

Video is becoming a primary communication channel, particularly with certain demographics. Innovators are helping retailers and brands improve the quality of video and storytelling and offer customer service via video.

Companies: Gander, Hark, Tolstoy

3. Next-Generation Business Needs

Retailers and brands have a major stake in ensuring customers receive products that ensure their loyalty and meet their sustainability standards.

Companies: IN BOLD PRINT, Toki

4. Optimizing Operations: Payments and Supply Chains

Demand planning is a critical step that drives inventory, sales and returns, which, in turn, enables efficient logistics. Offering various payment methods, including biometrics, reduces friction and increases conversion.

Companies: Frate, Syrup, Wink

The Winners

The six finalists that made it to the second round were Drop, Gander, Hark, ReflektMe, Syrup and Wink. Of these six, the expert panel of judges selected the Judges’ Choice winner as Drop, which won a $100,000 investment from Commerce Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm. Meanwhile, the audience voted for the Audience Choice winner, Syrup.

Left to right: Kiley, Weinswig, James Theuerkauf (from Syrup), Benjamin Benichou (from Drop), Nichols and Barber
Source: Coresight Research


The Competing Innovators: Pitch Highlights

Below, we detail highlights from each of the innovators’ presentations, in alphabetical order.

The 12 speakers and four judges that participated in the Shark Reef pitch competition at Shoptalk 2023
Source: Coresight Research



  • Speaker: Benjamin Benichou, Co-Founder and CEO
  • Area of disruption: New Ways To Engage Consumers
  • Read the full Innovator Profile for Drop

Founded in 2020, Drop is a social commerce platform that enables enterprise brands and retailers to engage with and sell products to their Meta and Instagram followers directly, at scale, providing opportunities to increase revenue from organic and paid social initiatives.

As Benichou stated at the beginning of his presentation: “we now live in a social world.” More than 80% of the world’s web traffic is through social media channels, as opposed to the 17% that occurs through web browsers. At the same time, the cost of driving traffic and acquiring customers through a branded website has reached an all-time high, while e-commerce conversion is low, Benichou said. Brands need to rethink how to attract their social media followers to their website.

How the Drop platform works
Source: Drop


Benichou explained that Drop leverages AI (artificial intelligence) to enable brands to personalize their tone of conversation, creating conversations that resonate with the brand’s unique identity. Using AI also means that brands can easily and quickly adjust their tone, providing flexibility to experiment and adapt and maximizing the effectiveness of their engagements. Currently, Drop’s clients include Asics, Decathlon, Dentsu, Havas Media and Hot Topic.

Benichou presents on the future of Drop
Source: Coresight Research



  • Speaker: Bailey Newton, Founder and CEO
  • Area of disruption: Optimizing Operations: Payments and Supply Chains
  • Read the full Innovator Profile for Frate

Founded in 2022, Frate provides returns management software for “peer-to-peer returns.” Frate’s solution incentivizes consumers to hold onto items they wish to return while the retailer re-lists them at a discounted price. If the item is re-sold within a certain period, consumers “return” the item directly to the next buyer—what the company calls an “EcoDrop.” Additionally, the platform tries to find a local buyer versus shipping to a warehouse or across the country.

Newton discusses Frate’s returns management software
Source: Coresight Research


During his presentation, Newton emphasized the negative impacts of retail returns on both profitability and the environment, including that, in 2022, $816 billion in goods were returned, 16 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) were emitted from return shipping trips and six billion pounds of returned goods ended up in landfills. Newton explained that these impacts are driven by the inefficient, status-quo returns process.

Frate’s solution tackles these impacts: peer-to-peer returns enable retailers to save on shipping labels, warehousing costs, liquidation and more, while also decreasing CO2 emissions from shipping trips and reducing packaging and landfill waste. According to the company, retailers that leverage the Frate platform see a 23% increase in profit retention and a 34% decrease in shipping emissions per return, on average (see image below).

The impacts of the Frate platform
Source: Frate



  • Speaker: Kimiloluwa Fafowora, Founder and CEO
  • Area of disruption: Innovative Video Applications
  • Read the full Innovator Profile for Gander

Gander helps give shoppers what they need to reach a purchase decision. Founded in 2021, the company has developed an end-to-end solution that enables brands to easily create and embed quality video user-generated content (UGC) on their websites, driving sales, engagement and conversion. Gander can handle the entire UGC production process, including sourcing content creators, developing content narratives, video editing and production, and licensing. The company also uses high-quality content delivery networks (CDNs) to improve network speed.

Fafowora explained that when online shoppers browse product pages on retail websites, they often turn to social media platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok and YouTube to discover more about the products and see them in use. However, after navigating away from a retailer’s site, these shoppers often do not return to make a purchase. Therefore, there is a gap between where consumers find the content they need versus where they make their final purchase. Gander aims to bridge this gap by putting brands’ content in the right context, according to Fafowora.

How Gander helps consumers
Source: Gander


In the fourth quarter of 2022, Gander achieved a 23% conversion-rate lift and influenced $10.4 million in sales, according to the company. Gander’s clients include beauty and skincare brands Black Opal (BLK/OPL), Eadem, Huron and Tower 28.

Fafowora discusses Gander’s end-to-end solution
Source: Coresight Research



  • Speaker: Brennan Woodruff, Co-Founder and COO
  • Area of disruption: New Ways to Engage Consumers

Founded in 2021, GoCharlie is a multimodal, generative AI company that uses a proprietary AI-powered engine to help brands and retailers create engaging marketing content. Its “Campaign in a Click” product allows content creators to use various inputs—including websites, audio and video files, or text content—to generate a campaign’s worth of content tailored to individual platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Woodruff explores the role of AI in marketing and GoCharlie
Source: Coresight Research


Per Woodruff, “we live in a generative AI world.” AI enables brands to thrive and grow, while providing personalized customer interactions and rapid ideation, among other benefits. With GoCharlie, marketing teams can turn ideas into marketing campaigns that both match a brand’s voice and drive consumer engagement. GoCharlie can also help companies repurpose previously created content, saving companies’ time and “revitalizing existing content libraries.”


  • Speaker: Fran Brzyski, Founder and CEO
  • Area of disruption: Innovative Video Applications
  • Read the full Innovator Profile for Hark

Founded in 2022, Hark is a customer experience (CX) platform that offers a unique post-purchase interaction experience for customers and service teams. The platform leverages video and audio prompts to allow customers to showcase and explain their issues to companies before interacting with a live agent. With its AI technology, Hark packages relevant details into a “perfect ticket” delivered to service teams via Help Desk integration.

Hark’s CX process
Source: Hark


During his presentation, Brzyski shared success metrics that Hark has achieved with its customers, including a 43% decrease in cost per ticket, a 21% decrease in ticket-reopen rate, a 25% increase in customer satisfaction rating and a 26% increase in one-touch resolution. He also highlighted that Hark offers a “feedback loop with context,” providing advanced reporting and analytics to its clients’ product, marketing and executive teams.

Brzyski emphasized that “customer service is a revenue generator,” so it is a critical operational area for brands to improve profitability by leveraging technology.

Brzyski presents on the future of CX and the role Hark will play
Source: Coresight Research



  • Speaker: Cierra Valor, Co-Founder and CEO
  • Area of disruption: Ensuring Product Quality and Sustainability
  • Read the full Innovator Profile for IN BOLD PRINT.

IN BOLD PRINT. is a technology company that provides a cloud-based platform to help consumer brands work toward sustainability goals by measuring carbon emissions and improving environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) reporting from the platform’s central, interactive dashboard.

Valor discussed the challenges for retailers in knowing and sharing their climate impact—namely, that consultants are expensive, emissions data are complicated and employees are busy. IN BOLD PRINT. helps consumer brands understand, track and optimize their carbon footprint to become more environmentally sustainable. Valor described IN BOLD PRINT. as “the only data-focused carbon emissions platform built for the consumer good industry.” She also called it the “TurboTax of carbon accounting.”

Valor explains how IN BOLD PRINT. helps brands track their carbon footprint
Source: Coresight Research


The cloud-based platform aggregates Scope 1, 2 and 3 carbon emission data across a retailer’s operation—as well as its vendors’ operations—through an interactive dashboard. It also allows for data downloads and offers services such as data preparation to track goals and action plan creation.

Valor explained that IN BOLD PRINT. helps its clients answer their customers’ demand for transparency, which can drive sales and loyalty: she highlighted that 94% of consumers would be loyal to a brand that offers transparency (per Label Insight). Meanwhile, detailed ESG metrics also allow companies to determine how to earn the best return on investment, pleasing stakeholders, per the presentation.

The IN BOLD PRINT. dashboard increases transparency and clarity around carbon emissions



  • Speaker: Rosie Bailey, Co-Founder and CEO
  • Area of disruption: New Ways To Engage Consumers
  • Read the full Innovator Profile for Nibble

Founded in 2020, Nibble is an AI chatbot for e-commerce retailers that lets customers negotiate personalized prices on desired products or services. Through an automated and entertaining chat experience, Nibble aims to preserve margins and improve conversion rates and customer engagement.

Nibble’s position in the customer journey
Source: Nibble


According to Bailey, Nibble is the first chatbot that can negotiate on a company’s e-commerce site, allowing customers to negotiate for a lower price. Bailey explained that brands and retailers that use Nibble see a 50% increase in average order value (AOV) at modest discounts of below 10%. On the other hand, resellers that use Nibble see a £10.00 ($12.24) average profit increase on their items sold through the chatbot. The chatbot can also help companies clear excess inventory while doing so in a brand-appropriate manner, resulting in a 27% average margin increase for products sold through Nibble.

As AI and chatbots are here to stay, Bailey stated that companies should use them to see “sustainable, profitable growth and real consumer engagement.”

Bailey discusses how Nibble works
Source: Coresight Research


Reflekt Me

  • Speaker: Tope Mitchell, Co-Founder and CEO
  • Area of disruption: New Ways To Engage Consumers
  • Read the full Innovator Profile for Reflekt Me

Founded in 2018, Reflekt Me aims to help brands and retailers make the online shopping experience more inclusive. Its business-to-business (B2B), software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform enables retailers to provide personalized product images featuring “real people,” with different skin tones and body types, on a product’s landing page. These product images resonate with shoppers and enable them to better understand product size and fit, driving consumer confidence in their purchase decisions.

Mitchell covers how inclusive retailing impacts consumers and companies.
Source: Coresight Research


Mitchell stated that “online retail has an image problem,” where product marketing images do not reflect real people. For example, she cited that over 70% of women are size 14 or above, but just 2% of photos used across the e-commerce space feature images of offerings in size 14 or above. As Mitchell explained, brands and retailers can use the Reflekt Me platform to answer shoppers’ three most pressing questions: “What does a product look like… in my size, on my skin tone and with my hair type?”

Reflekt Me aims to help brands increase sales and engagement, reduce returns and build a community. Mitchell emphasized the importance of representation in driving revenue, highlighting the considerable market opportunity in solving the issue of size- or fit-based returns, which is a total addressable market of $816 billion.

Reflekt Me’s clients include Levi’s, which has used the platform to cultivate “a truly inclusive experience [and give] the consumer a more accurate preview of the item,” according to Lara Lasisz, Levi’s Innovation Lead.


  • Speaker: James Theuerkauf, Co-Founder and CEO
  • Area of disruption: Optimizing Operations: Payments and Supply Chains
  • Read the full Innovator Profile for Syrup

Founded in 2020, Syrup offers an AI-powered platform that helps omnichannel brands and retailers optimize inventory management. The platform uses machine learning (ML) algorithms to analyze historical sales data, market trends and other factors to provide accurate demand forecasts and inventory recommendations. It also offers tools for automating inventory allocation, managing purchase orders and optimizing inventory levels across multiple channels.

The impact of Syrup’s AI-powered software
Source: Syrup


According to Theuerkauf, the Syrup platform drives a 5%–10% gross margin increase, reduces excess inventory and waste by 10%–20% and achieves time savings of 60%–90% on manual workflows. Theuerkauf also stated that the platform drives “10X better inventory decisions.” For example, Syrup can correlate the impact of micro-influencers with point-of-sale (POS) data.

The company’s omnichannel retail clients include Desigual, Faherty, Reformation and Windsor.

Theuerkauf presents on how AI impacts inventory decisions
Source: Coresight Research



  • Speaker: Elise DeCamp, Co-Founder and CEO
  • Area of disruption: next-generation business needs

Toki offers an “easy-to-manage” loyalty program platform that creates growth and retention. On the platform, brands and retailers can create branded tokens, offer gamified experiences with non-fungible token (NFT) prizes and innovate into Web3. On the other side, consumers can use one simple login to enjoy fun experiences, earn rewards for sharing their data and shop “their own way.”

DeCamp speaks on how the Toki platform helps companies attract and retain customers
Source: Coresight Research


According to DeCamp, Toki was built to help companies earn 10X the engagement and 10X the revenue. To do so, Toki has turned loyalty into a “full funnel program,” along every part of the consumer journey: pre-conversion, at purchase and post-conversion. Retailers can use loyalty as an acquisition tool for better results and a better shopping experience, which Toki facilitates. DeCamp stated that Toki creates a unified experience by incentivizing customers to write a review or take a quiz and bringing a company’s entire tech stack together.

Toki enhances the customer journey
Source: Toki



  • Speaker: Dov Kaufmann, Co-Founder and CEO
  • Area of disruption: Innovative Video Applications
  • Read the full Innovator Profile for Tolstoy

Tolstoy is an end-to-end video-commerce platform that enables brands and retailers to better sell their products directly to consumers and build an authentic connection with their audience by adding shoppable and interactive videos to their digital surfaces—including storefronts, product detail pages and email and SMS campaigns.

The platform allows for the creation, publishing and sharing of short-form interactive videos to increase visit duration times on the clients’ websites and drive conversion. Tolstoy also offers a video quiz feature that enables businesses to better understand their audience and personalize their offers and future experience.

Kaufmann dives into Tolstoy’s various features
Source: Coresight Research


Kaufmann started his presentation with a story about how Tolstoy helped Omsom, a company that makes Asian food flavor packets. According to Kaufmann, it was a story that could only be told via video, one particularly suited for TikTok, which is why consumers often did not convert on the websites. However, the personalization and engagement provided by interactive video changed that.

Tolstoy has a measurable impact on return on investment (ROI), with Kaufmann stating that companies BelliWelli, Deux and Korean Skincare have seen a 22X, 60X and 89X increase in ROI, respectively, since using the platform.

Some of the in-video interactions that Tolstoy provides
Source: Tolstoy



  • Speaker: Deepak Jain, Founder and CEO
  • Area of disruption: Optimizing Operations: Payments and Supply Chains
  • Read the full Innovator Profile for Wink

Wink is a US biometric identity and payments platform that enables companies to offer simpler and seamless payments experiences through AI and ML technology and facial and voice recognition-based, multi-factor authentication. Customers can checkout securely and quickly without using passwords, usernames, card numbers or SMS texts.

Jain explains the details of Wink’s platform
Source: Coresight Research


Jain explained that Wink converts all cameras into biometric authenticators and payment acceptance points—there are currently more than 44 million cameras in the world (see image below). He discussed the multiple applications in the payment space that the technology facilitates, including frictionless in-store payment, loss prevention for self-checkout, hands-free and in-vehicle payments, smart home cloud biometric payments and ATM fraud prevention. Users enjoy that Wink provides biometric authentication with one-way encryption and Web 3.0-compliant architecture.

Currently, the Wink payments platform supports major payment methods and can send biometric payments to more than 200 major gateways.

Wink data on the rise of cameras in the world
Source: Wink