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Braintree Payment Solutions Takes Top Spot in New Venture Challenge

Students competed for an additional $35,000 in prize money for going global and high-tech in the 2007 Edward L. Kaplan New Venture Challenge business plan competition, with Mitsubishi Corporation awarding $25,000 for the potential for global opportunities and DaimlerChrysler giving $10,000 for innovative technology.

Braintree Payment Solutions, an “end-to-end” provider of payment processing solutions, won the event’s $25,000 prize for first place among a competitive field of nine finalists on May 24 at the Charles M. Harper Center.

Two teams tied for second place and will each receive $15,000 in prize money, including The Perfect Dinner, LLC a “hub-and-spoke” fresh-made dinner service, and Varna Research, a U.S.-based contract research organization (CRO) that will provide clinical trials, data collection, and feasibility testing to medical device customers in the United States and Europe through clinics located in India. Peekaboo Intimates, an undergarment company targeting urban, professional Chinese women, won $5,000 for fourth place.

Braintree’s Chris Kaltenbach, ’07 (XP-76), credited founder Bryan Johnson with distinguishing his group from other teams. “He was really able to articulate why this business was going to be successful,” Kaltenbach said. Wes Thompson, ’07 (XP-76), agreed. “What set us apart was experience and a nice mix of strategy with tactical execution,” he said. “It’s not a sexy space, but it makes a lot of money.”

Johnson, ’07 (XP-76), was much more modest. “It was the quality of the team,” he said. “We had an exceptional team that internalized the feedback we received from the judges and the coaches, and then made the appropriate adjustments. We really paid attention to what they were saying, and it showed in our before and after shots in the improvements we made in the business.”

In the Mitsubishi competition for the potential for international opportunities among the proposed ventures, Varna Research won $10,000 and Septet Systems, Peekaboo Intimates, and Hydrastats won $5,000 each. Septet Systems, which was led by Alexandre Brown, ’07 (AXP-6), delivers novel information analysis and classification tools and services to general Web users. Hydrastats, a technology developed at the University of Chicago’s Department of Chemistry, provides efficient, effective real-time monitoring of a person’s hydration level using saliva.
In the Daimler-Chrysler competition for innovative technology, Septet Systems and HydraStats won $5,000 each.

Judge Guy Nohra, ’89, cofounder and managing director of Alta Partners, said the 2007 field of teams was outstanding. “I thought they were all very impressive,” Nohra said. “They were well-coached. They told good stories. It’s very, very hard to do what they’re doing, whether it’s the design or doing all the analytical work on the concept. That’s what entrepreneurs spend their whole lives doing.”

Ellen Rudnick, clinical professor of entrepreneurship and executive director of the Polsky Center, agreed. “Selecting the winners this year was extremely difficult. Any of the finalist teams had a good chance,” she said. Other finalists that were well liked by the judges included Jaya 3D, LLC, which enables improved  radiologist  productivity and patient care services in medical diagnostics through the use of revolutionary 3D volumetric reconstruction technologies; Catalogic, a direct  marketing  provider that gives small- to medium-sized retailers  access to the  cost-prohibitive catalog channel; and Albion Software, which provides software and services that reduce the risk and cost of failed enterprise software implementations, she said.

Nohra, who has served as a judge in the competition for more than five years and helped sponsor this year’s competition, said he devotes his time to the annual event to “give back” to the GSB. “I’m in the venture capital business, so I know this area really well,” he said. “It’s the least I can do to return to Chicago what it’s done for me.”

The annual New Venture Challenge is organized by The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and sponsored by Edward L. Kaplan, ’70, founder, chairman, and CEO of Zebra Technologies Corporation. In addition to Nohra, sponsors of the 2007 competition included Bell, Boyd & Lloyd LLC, Harris Bank, and Reed Smith LLP.

—Phil Rockrohr