SAEF Legal Aid wins top prize, earning $75,000, in nationally ranked accelerator program finals

The Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation are pleased to announce the winners of the John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC), the social impact track of the University of Chicago’s nationally ranked business launch program, the New Venture Challenge.

Winners of the 11th annual SNVC, which launches enterprises with a social impact mission and a plan for financial sustainability, received a total of $150,000 in venture funding. The winners are:

First Place ($75,000): SAEF Legal Aid (Support, Advocacy, Education for Families) is a justice-tech nonprofit building tools and services to help low-income parents and families access free and affordable legal solutions. (School affiliation: Booth; College)

Tied for Second Place ($37,500 each):

LadderUp Housing is closing the wealth gap by removing barriers to home ownership for working people living in low-income communities. (Booth)

Southside Market is a neighborhood fresh market and cafe on a mission to increase healthy food access and business ownership opportunities to communities on the South Side of Chicago and beyond. (Booth; Harris; Crown Family School)

Other finalists: Axo, Nelu Diversified Consulting Solutions, SpotCheck Sensing

New this year, viewers of the virtual finals event selected Axo as the audience choice award winner, earning a $5,000 cash prize. Axo aims to connect brands that want to source sustainable ingredients with farmers that are taking climate-smart approaches on their farms. The award was open to all 14 SNVC teams who advanced to Phase II of the competition.

"Year after year, students continue to come up with innovative ideas for startups that are zeroing in some of the pressing social challenges of our time. This year’s teams tackled inequities and access to legal counsel, effective diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, healthy foods, affordable housing, and more,” said Robert H. Gertner, Joel F. Gemunder Professor of Strategy and Finance at Chicago Booth and John Edwardson Faculty Director of the Rustandy Center. “We’re proud to support these budding entrepreneurs and can’t wait to see what they do next.”

Twenty judges—including experienced social and traditional entrepreneurs, impact investors, nonprofit leaders, and many Chicago Booth alumni—provided feedback throughout the SNVC program. Judges included Rachel Kohler, ’89, founding principal of Kohop Ventures; Unmi Song, AB ’82, MBA ’86, president of the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, Jim Casselberry, ’01, chief investment officer at 4S Bay Partners; and David Wells, MBA ’98, MPP ’98, former CFO at Netflix and current economic development advisor. A full list of judges can be found on the SNVC website.

The SNVC is run by the Rustandy Center, in partnership with the Polsky Center. This year, 14 teams competed for six spots in the SNVC finals, including students representing Booth, the College, the Harris School of Public Policy, the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, and the Humanities Division.

The SNVC is the cornerstone of the Rustandy Center’s Edwardson Social Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Chicago, which is an initiative named in recognition of a 2016 gift by John Edwardson,’72, retired chairman and CEO of CDW, a leading provider of technology solutions, and co-chair of Advance Illinois, an independent statewide education organization. All 2021 SNVC sponsors can be found here.

“The SNVC is one of the highlights of my year,” Edwardson said. “The passion, creativity, and desire to change the world exhibited by our participating teams give me confidence that we can change our world and for the better.”

By the Numbers:

- Since 2011, the SNVC has helped jump-start more than 100 companies and nonprofits

- SNVC companies have gone on to raise more than $35 million in philanthropic dollars, grant support, and venture capital funding

- Among them: solar-powered light company LuminAID, which has twice appeared on Shark Tank; Nigeria-based tractor leasing company Hello Tractor; online voter guide BallotReady; autism therapy provider AIM Clinics; and B2B e-commerce platform for Africa's informal retailers, Sokowatch

About the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation

The Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation is the destination at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business for people committed to helping solve complex social and environmental problems. As Chicago Booth’s social impact hub, the Rustandy Center offers hands-on learning opportunities, supports innovative courses, and pursues research—all with the goal of developing people and practices with the potential to solve the world’s biggest problems.

About the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago brings the power of ideas in the laboratory, classroom, and community to the world by providing resources to commercialize discoveries, partner with companies, and attract venture capital. The Polsky Center helps foster a culture of innovation that extends across the University, city, and region, including UChicago’s nationally-recognized accelerator program, the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge. The mission of the Polsky Center is to bridge the gap between knowledge and practice, idea and action, and research and impact.

Media Contact:

Gina Potthoff Kacik, Rustandy Center
gina.potthoff@chicagobooth.edu
773.702.7702