The winning NVC team, matchist (L-R): Stella Fayman, Tim Jahn, Rishi Kumar, Elan Mosbacher, Itamar Bar-Zakay and Prem Panchal
On May 30, room C-25 was packed with venture capitalists, faculty and students. The PE/VC students were sitting in the back taking frantic notes, the judges were mingling and the photographers were capturing the moment. It felt like "Showtime" the blood, sweat and tears of these students all boiled down to one presentation that they could probably dictate in their sleep while having two other dreams simultaneously. The event began with a few words by facilitators Steve Kaplan, Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance, and Ellen Rudnick, Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship and the Executive Director of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship. This year, 90 teams applied to participate in the New Venture Challenge: 29 of those teams were selected to advance to phase two and only ten teams advanced to phase three. These teams would compete for a share of $100,000 of venture money as well as $100,000 in services.
In turn, each team had time to present their venture and then answer difficult questions from the panel of judges. The ventures included a website for interactive programming for the elderly, a beverage company, a solar tracking system, an application to aid cancer centers, a dating service, a medical device company for sleep apnea, two food service ventures and an integration facilitating venture. Not only were the ventures diverse, but their team members were as well. There was a wide array of accents, colors and personalities that only Booth could pull together. Likewise, the judges came from diverse industries and backgrounds in order to provide useful feedback to the contestants. They asked questions about technology, competition, funding, barriers to entry, feasibility and team members.
One thing was certain the level of passion oozing off the contestants was properly matched with constructive skepticism to make for an interesting Q&A session after each presentation. There was little room for pleasantries as the judges fired question after question, trying to poke holes and offer advice in the same breath.
In the spring quarter, during the Special Topics in Entrepreneurship course, NVC teams practice this type of grilling on a regular basis. It was evident that not only did they have great answers for many of the questions, but they also had the data and proof to back their claims. The teams were well-prepared and the presentations were crisp and clear.
As a spectator and future NVC participant, I had the unique vantage point of sitting alongside the judges and industry experts. After a short conversation with the man next to me, discussing our opinions on various ventures, he showed me his iPad, which showed that a certain idea was not patentable. During the presentations, he was validating the patent potential of every single idea. I spoke to the wife of one of the judges who said, "My husband keeps talking about this event so I wanted to see it for myself." A University of Chicago student PhD student in Biology sitting nearby commented that he attended just because he was interested. Everyone in the room had a different story but all of them appreciated the enthusiasm and poise of the contestants.
More than $200,000 was distributed in awards to the winners. Matchist, a site that allows companies to locate top web and mobile developers, took home the first place prize of $30,000. In second place was Aeos Technology, a cleantech venture that adjusts solar panels to receive optimum sunlight. Project Fixup, a dating service for professionals, was awarded third place. As NVC 2013 comes to an end for these three companies and the other contestants, this is just the beginning of a long, winding and risky road.
2013 New Venture Challenge Winners
First Place: matchist ($30,000) Itamar Bar-Zakay, Stella Fayman, Tim Jahn, Rishi Kumar, Elan Mosbacher, Prem Panchal
Second Place: Aeos Technology ($20,000) John Ciasulli, Haibo Lu, Yelena Shkolnik, Matt Tsiang
Third Place: Project Fixup ($15,000) Alan Illing, Marina Lidow, Sarah Press, Dave Riege
Fourth Place (tie): Arc Mobile ($10,000) Jimmy Dagher, Chris Hauck, Dominic Hood, Mihail Ivanov, Tyler Mendoza, Joe Wroblewski, Nick Wroblewski Cancer IQ ($10,000) Darren Cusanovich, Paul Fung, Haibo Lu, Feyi Olopade
Fifth Place: Kishr ($5,000) Rowida Assalimy, Elizabeth Gay, Zachary Walz 2013
Social New Venture Challenge Winners
First Place: Purple Binder ($35,000) Joseph Flesh, Declan Frye, Sarah Hollenbeck, Lauren Johnson, Laura Morales, Lauren Webb
Second Place: Project SAM ($10,000) Cindy Sui, Pete Vilter, Victor Kung, Daniel Yu
Third Place: EduLink ($5,000) Ricardo Bernal, Alejandro Correa, Rodrigo Jiménez, Angela Samper