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Shoptalk 2024 “Shark Reef” Startup Pitch Competition: Recap—12 Innovators, Two Winners

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Coresight Research is an official research partner of Shoptalk 2024, which is taking place during March 17–20 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Shoptalk is an annual retail conference that unites executives from retailers, consumer-facing brands and technology vendors across both physical stores and e-commerce to discuss retail innovation and the trends, business models and technologies that are shaping the future of retail.

On March 17, 2024, Coresight Research hosted the “Shark Reef” Startup Pitch competition, which saw 12 early-stage retail-technology innovators compete to win the Judges’ Choice and Audience Choice awards. Deborah Weinswig, CEO and Founder of Coresight Research, emceed the pitch competition and served as lead judge

We provide a recap of the event, with key insights from the startups’ presentations.

Shoptalk 2024 “Shark Reef” Startup Pitch Competition: Coresight Research Insights

Event Format and Judging Panel

The Shoptalk 2024 “Shark Reef” startup pitch competition comprised two rounds:

  • Round 1: All competitors presented for three minutes on how their innovative technologies are addressing important challenges in retail. As emcee and lead judge, Weinswig asked each presenter a single tough question following each presentation. The judges and audience then rated each presentation, and the six companies that received the highest aggregate ratings progressed to the next round.
  • Round 2: The finalists each participated in a more in-depth, five-minute Q&A session with the judging panel. The judges and audience re-rated the finalists to determine the winners!

Weinswig was joined by three expert judges:

  • Christina Melas-Kyriazi, Partner at Bain Capital Ventures
  • Brent Murri, Partner at M13
  • Matt Nichols, Partner, Commerce Ventures

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The Startup Pitch judging panel—left to right: Weinswig, Melas-Kyriazi, Murri, Nichols
Source: Coresight Research


Innovative Solutions Across Four Areas of Disruption in Retail

The participating startups satisfied the following selection criteria:

  • Business-to-business (B2B) solution
  • Pre-Series A—funding of less than $8 million
  • Founded since 2018
  • Scalable—addresses a major retail challenge or opportunity
  • Highly differentiated—unique or highly differentiated technology or business model

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

AI/AI-Based Content

This category comprises startups that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to create and optimize content for various purposes, such as marketing, customer engagement and personalization.

Startups: aiphrodite.ai, EyeLevel.ai, Optiversal, PSYKHE AI, Tare

Shoppable Media and Experiential Commerce

This category comprises startups that provide solutions for shoppable media and experiential commerce, enabling brands to create engaging and interactive shopping experiences for consumers.

Startups: dotkonnekt, Hue, MadeMeBuyIt

Customer Experience and Loyalty

This category comprises startups that focus on enhancing the customer journey—including the post-purchase experience—improving customer satisfaction, loyalty and retention through personalized communications, loyalty programs and more.

Startups: Node, Raleon

E-Commerce Operations and Fulfillment

This category comprises startups that are transforming e-commerce operations and fulfillment processes, optimizing supply chains, reducing costs and improving efficiency.

Startups: Portless, Two Boxes

Figure 1. Shoptalk 2024 “Shark Reef” Startup Pitch: 12 Innovators Across Four Areas of Retail Disruption

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Source: Coresight Research


The Winners

The six finalists that made it through to the second round were EyeLevel.ai, Hue, Optiversal, Portless, PSYKHE AI and Two Boxes.

Of these companies, the expert panel of judges selected the Judges’ Choice winner as Optiversal, which won an optional £100,000 investment from Commerce Ventures.

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Lucas Tieleman, Co-Founder of Optiversal, collects the Judge’s Choice award from Deborah Weinswig, emcee and lead judge
Source: Coresight Research


The audience-voted Audience Choice winner was PSYKHE AI.

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Anabel Maldonado, Founder and CEO of PSYKHE AI, collects the Audience Choice award from Deborah Weinswig, emcee and lead judge
Source: Coresight Research


The Competing Innovators: Pitch Highlights

We detail highlights from each of the innovators’ presentations below, starting with the two winers and then in alphabetical order.

Judge’s Choice: Optiversal

  • Presenter at Shoptalk: Lucas Tieleman, Co-Founder
  • Area of Disruption: AI/AI-based content
  • Download the Innovator Profile for Optiversal here.

Optiversal provides an AI-driven e-commerce content-creation platform. Leveraging generative AI technology, the company automates the creation of thematic landing pages, product content and marketing materials. This approach enables e-commerce companies to produce high-quality, keyword-optimized content that resonates with their audience, ultimately improving traffic, conversion rates and revenue.

Tieleman explained that there are huge potential ranking opportunities for brands based on their product catalogue that are currently being untapped; Optiversal opens up these incremental, long-tail opportunities through AI. He used the example of a search-engine prompt for “Treats for Main Coon Kittens” returning a link to Optiversal client Petco as a top result. The link is for a landing page that has been automatically generated by AI, featuring cat breed-relevant content as introductory text to featured products, enabling the search user to shop cat treats from Petco. Tieleman noted that the copy created by AI matches the tone of voice of the brand, ensuring a cohesive brand image. He said that the solution “works like magic and at scale.”

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Source: Optiversal


Other Optiversal clients include Best Buy, John Lewis, Sephora, Tractor Supply Company and many more retail companies. According to Tieleman, Optiversal created 185,000 AI landing pages in 2023, which generated 56.5 million incremental clicks and $147 million in incremental revenue.

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Tieleman explains how e-commerce companies can maximize revenue through Optiversal’s AI-generated landing pages
Source: Shoptalk


Audience Choice: PSYKHE AI

  • Presenter at Shoptalk: Anabel Maldonado, Founder and CEO
  • Area of Disruption: AI/AI-based content
  • Download the Innovator Profile for PSYKHE AI here.

PSYKHE AI seeks to help retailers optimize product discovery amid competition for consumers’ attention. Its solution leverages advanced deep-learning models and product information to accurately predict purchasing behavior based on consumers’ psychological characteristics and traits such as values, desires, goals, interests and lifestyle choices. PSYKHE AI generates custom rankings of each store’s catalog for individual users, ensuring that the most relevant products are presented to each user based on their interests.

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Maldonado discusses the future of AI merchandising with the judging panel
Source: Shoptalk


Maldonado offered the example of describing two chairs: one as “classy, traditional, regal” and the other as “fun, out-there, unusual.” She explained that “products have qualities, like people.” By assigning specific qualities to products, PSYKHE AI’s patented system—based on a proprietary psychological framework—can precisely match products with the right consumers, thereby enhancing the shopping experience and increasing sales for retailers. AI is “the brain of a super salesperson, able to instantly re-rank products,” Maldonado said.

Current merchandising is static and unpersonalized, with only a 1.5% conversion rate, according to Maldonado. On average, consumers only click through 2.5 pages: “most product is never seen,” she highlighted. AI merchandising from PSYKHE AI drives a conversion rate of at least 2% as well as a 33% increase in revenue, the company claims. The solution is a full enterprise service that provides rich tags and psychographics (enabling cross-category personalization), with real-time data consumption of clickstream data. Maldonado emphasized: “To win in AI, you need the best data, not just models.”

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  • Presenter at Shoptalk: Abhivyakti Ahuja, CEO and Co-Founder
  • Area of Disruption: AI/AI-based content
  • Download the Innovator Profile for aiphrodite.ai here.

aiphrodite.ai is revolutionizing ad testing to help creatives in the field of marketing focus on what they do best—creating—by reducing the burden of data crunching, which the company believes limits creativity and innovation. Explaining the problem, Ahuja highlighted that A/B testing is “slow, expensive, inaccurate and limited by audience size”. She added that marketers can only guess what caused an outcome. If a marketing team chooses the wrong image to lead an ad campaign, it can result in thousands of dollars in lost revenue, as well as driving the need to reamplify the campaign with further posts, Ahuja said.

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Ahuja explains the importance of effective ad testing and the limitations in current processes
Source: Shoptalk


aiphrodite.ai’s SaaS (software-as-a-service) platform uses AI and neuroscience to predict how users will react to an ad before it is even published, putting an end to A/B testing. This prediction takes place via proprietary AI personas, which provide instant, actionable and explainable feedback on how likely it is that the audience will stop and look at an ad, in addition to how likely they would be to engage if they do stop.

The company claims that its customers can reduce their testing budget by 20%–50% using the aiphrodite.ai solution, which uses predictive AI modeling (a key differentiator from the competition), is scalable to influencers and employs continuous learning. Ahuja told the “Shark Reef” judging panel that the total addressable market is currently worth $55.7 billion (estimated Instagram ad revenue) and the serviceable addressable market is worth $11.1 billion (estimated Instagram A/B testing spend).

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Source: aiphrodite.ai



  • Presenter at Shoptalk: Dhiraj Jain, Co-Founder and CEO
  • Area of Disruption: Shoppable media and experiential commerce
  • Download the Innovator Profile for dotkonnekt here.

dotkonnekt’s Sangria digital experience platform is designed to revolutionize digital commerce strategies. Jain explained that customer acquisition costs on paid ads have risen 10X in the past three years and that the deprecation of third-party cookies is presenting further challenges for digital commerce leaders.

To address these issues, Sangria leverages advanced AI technology to seamlessly integrate content, community and commerce (which the company calls “3C”), enhancing engagement and driving organic traffic to brands’ commerce sites. Jain describes this as “manifesting inspiration to acquisition with content-led commerce.” By facilitating in-content shopping and engagement, Sangria empowers brands to organically improve their SEO rankings, increase conversion and reduce dependency on paid advertising. dotkonnekt is on a “mission to democratize great experiences,” Jain said. Furthermore, Sangria’s AI-driven capabilities enable personalized and contextually relevant experiences, mitigating the impact of third-party cookie deprecation.

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Source: dotkonnekt


According to Jain, dotkonnekt’s Sangria solution reduces time to market and costs of launching an innovative shopping experience by over 10X, and drives a 3X–5X increase in click-through rate (beating industry-average conversion). The tool also generates a 50%–60% average increase in organic traffic, he said.

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Jain explains how dotkonnekt’s Sangria seamlessly integrates content, community and commerce
Source: Shoptalk



  • Presenter at Shoptalk: Neil Katz, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer
  • Area of Disruption: AI/AI-based content
  • Download the Innovator Profile for EyeLevel.ai here.

EyeLevel.ai solves a significant challenge in AI today: a lack of trust. Hallucination rates of LLMs (large language models) generating output from private data are up to 35%, largely because most of a company’s content “lives in formats that LLMs simply don’t understand,” Katz explained. By turning corporate content into AI-ready data that LLMs recognize, EyeLevel.ai provides businesses with AI applications that are up to 95% accurate—far beyond the industry standard—according to the company. EyeLevel.ai calls this “truth serum for AI.”

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Source: EyeLevel.ai


Making the use of AI simple and secure, EyeLevel.ai enables businesses to build e-commerce and customer service apps with no-code tools and APIs (application programming interfaces). The company’s solutions can be launched on web, apps and even SMS, and integrate with dozens of enterprise systems such as Salesforce, Hubspot, Google, Microsoft Clouds and more. Importantly, data are always encrypted, not leaked into LLMs and allow for full data governance—businesses can trust the AI with their private data.

More than 100 companies are testing and building truthful AI with Eyelevel.ai, including AirFrance (which has see 95% accuracy in travel customer support), AskVet (which has seen an 80% resolution rate in health patient support), KPMG and Stride.

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Katz discusses the huge issue of trust in today’s AI solutions
Source: Shoptalk



  • Presenter at Shoptalk: Nicole Clay, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer
  • Area of Disruption: Shoppable media and experiential commerce
  • Download the Innovator Profile for Hue here.

Short-form video has transformed how people shop and is the fastest-growing commerce channel, according to Hue. However, Clay emphasized that brands’ e-commerce sites lack user-generated video, as brands believe that generating authentic video content is expensive and time consuming; this results in poor conversion.

Hue is a shoppable-video solution that embeds authentic video reviews from real customers directly on brands’ direct-to-consumer e-commerce websites to drive conversion and sales. Clay revealed that Hue generated a 45% increase in conversion for its client, Live Tinted. Furthermore, Hue helps online brands and retailers ensure that a diverse range of shoppers are represented modeling and reviewing their products, leveraging a diverse community of over 2000 micro-content creators whose user-generated content showcases products on various skin types, ages and hues.

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Source: Hue


Clay explained that in the last 12 months, Hue as partnered with more than 30 brands and achieved an accounting rate of return (ARR) of $582,000 (and is on track to hit $2 million in the next 12 months). More than 2 million shoppers have been reached through over 300,000 videos in the past year, according to Hue.

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The company’s vision is to be an “all-in-one video commerce platform” that optimizes video content across channels to drive sales, fueled by “a predictive engine that drives revenue with video,” Clay said.

Clay presents Hue’s shoppable-video platform for e-commerce
Source: Shoptalk



  • Presenter at Shoptalk: Benjamin Kosinski, Founder and CEO
  • Area of Disruption: Shoppable media and experiential commerce
  • Download the Innovator Profile for MadeMeBuyIt here.

Kosinski described the “slow and painful process” facing retailers in terms of onboarding new brands: “You must discover the brand ​among thousands​. You send countless emails, PDFs and excels back and forth to determine if the brand is ready for retail​. You then must onboard them as a vendor, which can take weeks​. They then must become EDI-compliant​. Finally, you send them labeling and shipping requirements​.”

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Kosinski explains the challenges for retailers that want to work with a new brand
Source: Shoptalk


He explained that MadeMeBuyIt removes all these steps, providing just one platform—a centralized B2B marketplace—“to streamline the process of purchasing emerging brands.” This enables retailers to efficiently explore new brand partnerships, thus reducing the time and effort required to expand their product offerings.

In terms of the business model, MadeMeBuyIt is entirely free for retailers, Kosinski said. The company charges brands 5%–10% of each transaction.

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Source: MadeMeBuyIt



  • Presenter at Shoptalk: Rohan Mahadevan, Co-Founder and CEO
  • Area of Disruption: Customer experience and loyalty
  • Download the Innovator Profile for Node here.

Node’s commerce platform removes friction between merchants and consumers. Mahadevan explained that the company “used today’s tech to rebuild e-commerce from the ground up” without the need for sign-up or any servers, enabling retail companies and consumers to interact directly as “every transaction becomes one click.”

This paradigm shift—bringing commerce to the edge—eliminates the frustration, cost and risk associated with usernames, passwords, captchas, email spam, phishing, hacking, risk management, regulatory compliance, security and more, according to Node. The solution turns guest users into loyal shoppers.

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Mahadevan explained that Node has rebuilt e-commerce to remove friction
Source: Shoptalk


Because it cuts out the server (and the need to store user data), Node’s technology delivers complete privacy for the shopper. For merchants, Node’s solution drives sales and enables trusted communication—and it takes less than 10 minutes to integrate the tech into an existing site, according to the company.

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Source: Node



  • Presenter at Shoptalk: Izzy Rosenzweig, Founder and CEO
  • Area of Disruption: E-commerce operations and fulfillment
  • Download the Innovator Profile for Portless here.

Conventional supply chain practices entail heightened operational costs and reduced market agility for e-commerce brands. Portless helps e-commerce brands to navigate the complexities of supply chain and logistics processes by facilitating direct shipping from China to customers’ doorsteps, thereby minimizing lead times and mitigating inventory risk.

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Rosenzweig states that Portless helps e-commerce brands navigate the complexities of overseas logistics processes
Source: Shoptalk


Rosenzweig explained that the company brings product to its facility in Shenzhen, China, which it transports to the US in 5.2 days, on average, with a fully local US experience, USPS driver and label. He added that the company can ship to 50 countries worldwide with local experiences, including Australia and locations in Europe. Rosenzweig said, “Eliminating containers fundamentally changes the agility and economics of e-commerce businesses,” resulting in better cash flow, improved in-stock levels and higher margins (improved by 40%+, according to Portless).

Additionally, Portless facilitates market expansion by simplifying cross-border shipping logistics, allowing brands to enter international markets more seamlessly from a centralized hub.

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Source: Portless



  • Presenter at Shoptalk: Nathan Snell, Co-Founder and CEO
  • Area of Disruption: Customer experience and loyalty
  • Download the Innovator Profile for Raleon here.

Raleon aims to overturn outdated loyalty and retention strategies, which are still prevalent in the industry and limit customer engagement, reduce retention rates and waste opportunities for brand advocacy.

Raleon’s “modern loyalty” solution is founded on three tenets, explained Snell: personalized experiences, AI-powered retention and systematic loyalty. Loyalty strategies need to be “hyperpredictive and optimized” to achieve growth, he said. By employing AI and deep-learning models, Raleon enables merchants to provide unique experiences for every customer. Snell highlighted that the “shotgun blast” approach of the past is no longer viable in a market where digital-first approaches are becoming increasingly prevalent. Raleon instead takes a systematic approach to enhancing the post-purchase customer experience. Loyalty and retention go hand in hand, he said: brands needs a “retention machine powered by AI.”

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Source: Raleon


Raleon’s solution drives a 20% increase in repeat purchases, a 48% increase in customer retention, and a 24% boost in revenue in 12 months, on average, Snell said.

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Snell highlights the benefits that Raleon’s “modern loyalty” solution provides
Source: Shoptalk



  • Presenter at Shoptalk: Eileen Dai, Co-Founder and CEO
  • Area of Disruption: AI/AI-based content
  • Download the Innovator Profile for Tare here.

Email remains a leading tool used by marketing teams in today’s retail landscape: citing a Statista survey, Dai highlighted that nearly 80% of marketing teams in the US use email. She added that a significant portion of revenue is driven by email, so “it works when done right.”

However, many businesses struggle to create engaging and effective email campaigns that resonate with their audience, largely because “there are a million factors to optimize” and the volume of email production is overwhelming, Dai explained. This leads to low open rates, high unsubscribe rates and missed opportunities for customer engagement and conversions. Tare recognized a lack of available tools for companies to address this issue. As Dai said, “Why do email tools looks like they were built a decade ago? They were!”

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Dai discusses the opportunity for businesses to improve their email campaigns
Source: Shoptalk


Tare uses AI to “take email marketing to the next level,” Dai explained. Its next-generation, AI-powered platform is tailored to optimize business processes, with features such as automated image generation using Shopify store products, fully customizable email campaigns and robust tools for measuring and refining email strategy. The email marketing platform facilitates automated customer segmentation, AI-driven content and imagery creation and streamlined scheduling for delivery, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of email campaigns.

Dai highlighted that Tare drives up to 3.3X higher click-through rates and a 73% reduction in email costs. It generates an initial email in 2.1 minutes, on average, which is 80% ready to go and requires only ~1.5 hours for tweaking—a huge reduction from the average two-week traditional email production cycle, said Dai.

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Source: Tare


Two Boxes

  • Presenter at Shoptalk: Kyle Bertin, Co-Founder and CEO
  • Area of Disruption: E-commerce operations and fulfillment
  • Download the Innovator Profile for Two Boxes here.

Two Boxes is leveraging innovative technology to streamline returns operations within warehouses. The company “lives and breathes e-commerce logistics,” Bertin said. Through strategic partnerships with numerous third-party logistics providers, Two Boxes facilitates the efficient processing of large volumes of returned inventory for leading brands across the US and Canada. This approach not only optimizes labor-intensive processes but also contributes to environmental sustainability by preventing thousands of units of inventory from ending up in landfill.

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Source: Two Boxes


Additionally, Two Boxes provides valuable data insights to both third-party logistics operators and brands, enabling more efficient, intelligent and environmentally friendly returns management. Bertin emphasized that “brands love getting more inventory back to stock, faster, with actionable data.”

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Bertin discusses modernizes return operations
Source: Shoptalk