Pitchfest showcases promising new businesses and their technology at the world’s largest HR technology expo.


“Without modern technology, you can't be at the top of your field."

So concluded entrepreneur and TV star Barbara Corcoran, who delivered the keynote address on the first day of this year’s HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas on October 1. Corcoran, known for American TV show “Shark Tank,” in which aspiring business owners vie for starter funding, also provided opening remarks and encouragement for 30 fledgling HR technology companies competing at the conference’s second annual Pitchfest contest.

She was just one of many female executives who shared their challenges and triumphs in the HR industry on the conference’s opening day, which featured a “Women in HR Tech” summit. The event showcased how female leaders in companies such as Walmart, Workday, Oracle and others help lead transformational and inspiring projects within their businesses. Furthermore, it demonstrated how workforce diversity and gender equality can help employers solve challenges quickly and cost-effectively.

Diversity was on full display during Pitchfest’s first day, in which 10 of the 30 companies competing for $30,000 presented their start-ups to a panel of judges. Of the 10 pitches, nine were made by women leaders or executives of color, affirming that the HR technology market is increasingly reflecting the vision of diverse leadership. Not only were the executives diverse but so were the technologies the group offered up, including everything from payroll processing to employee engagement to AI-powered screening.

While they were very diversified in their technologies and solutions, a unifying theme emerged among the solutions: improving the talent experience is a high priority. Whether it was the data-driven engine of AI4jobs’ bias-minimized job matching technology or Curious Thing’s automated and AI-driven interviewing platform – both emerged as day-one winners of Pitchfest – each of the presentations seemed to focus on creating a better experience for job applicants and employees.

“Companies realize that to attract the best talent and build a sustainable pipeline of prospective employees, they need to make applying, onboarding and engagement a truly satisfying and rewarding experience,” said Ilonka Jankovich, one of this year’s Pitchfest judges and the head of the Randstad Innovation Fund, which invests in start-ups in HR technology. “That’s why you see so many of today’s presentations with a specific goal of making sure the needs of talent is well looked after.

Walmart’s focus on internal customers

Ensuring candidate satisfaction at Walmart was indeed a priority as an internal team of women leaders presented their unique case study on developing a new applicant tracking system (ATS) at the world’s largest retailer. Nerissa McQuilkin, Andrea Overholt, Katie Taylor and Kali Hayes recounted how failure to implement a commercial solution that took four years to develop led to an amazing 12-week development of its own ATS. 

With more than 40 million visitors to its career site each year, the company sought to transform its hiring process from an analog one to a digital process by eliminating paper applications. After initially deciding to implement an external solution that would not only enhance the experience for job applicants but also hiring managers at its 4,200 North American locations, the company found the product failed to meet its needs following a test rollout to 300 locations. Faced with possibly not meeting its scheduled delivery across all locations, the team of technology and recruitment leaders decided to reverse course and build its own.

“You have to get past the fear of change,” Overholt told an audience of conference attendees, “and the paralyzing fear of failure.”

To achieve their goal, the executives quickly assembled developers, project managers and other stakeholders to adhere to a tight timeframe. Though ambitious in its deadline, Walmart was able to obtain all the functionalities each of its stores needed while making sure the candidate-facing interface was clean, uncomplicated and responsive, creating a positive experience of applicants and significant time savings for hiring managers.

The Women in HR Tech Summit also featured other stories of female leaders taking on challenging projects that resulted in significant improvements in hiring outcomes. For instance, companies such as Workday are using analytics to track diversity metrics and to create a better employee experience and hiring decisions. Many of the day’s sessions also discussed the impact of AI on recruitment, mobility and learning and development. 

The HR Tech conference will continue through Friday October 4, with the winner of the Pitchfest contest to be announced on October 3rd.