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CaptainU, LLC and CureParticle Tie for Top Prize at New Venture Challenge

A combination of being well-prepared and able to answer rigorous questions about their business plans brought a pair of first-place awards to CaptainU, LLC and CureParticle, which each won $25,000 at the 12th annual Edward L. Kaplan New Venture Challenge (NVC) on May 29 at the Charles M. Harper Center. Hosted by the Michael P. Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship, the NVC is Chicago GSB’s premier business plan competition, spanning the entire academic year to prepare students for what it takes to launch and run a business.

“What set apart the winners was their ability to answer the judges’ questions,” said Ellen Rudnick, ’73, clinical professor of entrepreneurship and executive director of the Polsky Center. “They were able to show the thoroughness of their work and the rigor of the research and analysis they performed on their business ideas.”

Avi Stopper, ’06, founder of CaptainU, a college sports recruiting web service connecting high school athletes and college coaches, said, “I knew we had a very strong team who had worked very hard to put together a great plan. We presented very well; in fact, the quality of our presentations improved over the course of the contest. We thought we had a shot at winning, but there were a lot of really strong teams and up to the end I had no idea who might win.”

CureParticle, which provides pharmaceutical companies a platform technology for reformulation of existing drugs, focused on science, said first-year student Naonori Kurokawa, who discovered the patented laser-induced nanotechnology that the company uses. “We definitely were not expecting this,” Kurokawa said. “The key differentiation was that other teams focused on services and IT. Our technology is based on a combination of nano-processing and drugs.” The company also won the Mitsubishi award for the most innovative business plan.

CaptainU and CureParticle presented very different proposals for two very different businesses, said Steven Kaplan, Neubauer Family Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance and faculty director of the Polsky Center. “CureParticle is a technology that may or may not work, but if it works, it’s actually really interesting and could be a platform technology, which I think the judges liked,” Kaplan said. “I think the judges felt CaptainU occupies a niche where customers feel real passionately about the product, and their service could very well attract a lot of clients.” The NVC was judged by a world-class panel of 19 investors and seasoned entrepreneurs.

Nursync, a unique supplemental hospital staffing agency focusing on delivering the seamless integration of contingent labor into host organizations, won $15,000 for third place. SoCore Energy LLC, a solar energy system developer, won $10,000 for fourth place. Also receiving funding was eSpace, the first-ever Global NVC winner, whose team members presented in March and won $5,000. The NVC expanded globally this year to allow Executive MBA students from around the world to participate. eSpace, which offers basic registration and promotions for conference and exhibition audiences, included students from China, England, France, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates.

All nine teams in the finals represented innovative businesses, creating the most depth ever in the competition, Kaplan said. “Some of the teams that didn't make the finals were also very promising,” he said. “It was a pleasure to hear the presentations and it was really hard to choose a winner among the nine teams.”

Kaplan predicted that many of the teams that participated would find funding. “I think some of the teams that didn't get prize money will actually get started and be successful,” he said.

Other finalists included: Berlin Doner, a national chain of fast-casual restaurants; ReTel Technologies, which delivers online shopper analytics and pricing to offline retail; MBA Nexus, a private, social networking website for native Japanese speakers; Etoh Pharmaceuticals, which seeks to commercialize Aidinase as a treatment for alcoholism; and ProOnGo, whose clients streamline expense reporting by scanning receipts with smart phones.

The NVC has awarded $530,000 to date, and has helped launch more than 40 companies that have gone on to raise more than $100 million in equity capital. The NVC title sponsor is Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, founder and former chairman and CEO of Zebra Technologies. Other sponsors included Mitsubishi Corporation; Kuczmarski & Associates; Google; Market Strategy Group, LLC; Reed Smith, LLP; Neal, Gerber, & Eisenberg LLP; and ARCH Venture Partners. In addition to seed funding, the winning NVC teams also will receive legal services, professional consulting, and incubator space.


—Phil Rockrohr