On May 26, 2021, an audience gathered online to celebrate innovation at Northwestern! VentureCat 2021 was once again held virtually to not only keep our participants safe and allow them to compete from their homes around the country, but also to welcome a wide audience to join us. While many operations across the University remained online during COVID-19 restrictions and closures, our focus continued to be fostering our vibrant community of student founders. We are inspired by the resilience of our entrepreneurial community for continuing to innovate through a very challenging year. You can watch the entire VentureCat 2021 Public Showcase Livestream below.
While it may have been a challenging year for startups, we were thrilled to receive updates from last year’s winners! 2020 third place winner Tilt led by Sinthuja Nagalingam, Kellogg ’20 is currently beta-testing the newest iteration of her product and is looking forward to scaling it this fall. Second place winner, Qade, pivoted and rebranded to Buff’d, giving viewers the opportunity to support their favorite streamers in exchange for unique digital trading cards. Since competing last year, Spencer Levitt, Weinberg ’22 and Austin Pager, SESP ’22, have partnered with over 60 streamers! First place winner, Gearflow founder Ben Preston, Kellogg ’21 has used his grand prize of $150,000 to build his technology platform, which was only two months old at the time of VentureCat 2020! We’re excited to see former participants iterating and growing!
With a record number of applications and just 25 semifinalist startup teams selected across five industry tracks, VentureCat remains a competitive program at Northwestern. This year, we aimed to highlight all of our semifinalist teams ensuring they each receive the support and exposure that is well-deserved! Each team participated in a four week Pitch Prep Program where they were paired with pitch coaches, advisors, and received professional graphic design services to enhance their pitch decks. Semifinalist teams also participated in an Alumni Favorite Elevator Pitch Award Competition in partnership with the Northwestern Alumni Association in which alumni around the world watched pitches and voted. The winner was awarded an additional $1,000 in non-dilutive prize money.
This year, VentureCat again distributed more than $300,000 in non-dilutive capital to competing student ventures thanks to generous sponsorship and donor contributions. Thank you to the Levy Institute and to Lanny and Sharon Martin for generous gifts this year. We thank Exelon for joining us again as a sponsor for our Energy & Sustainability Track.
In collaboration with the Kellogg School of Management, the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center, and The Garage, VentureCat 2021 was possible thanks to the contributions of volunteer pitch coaches, track advisors, and judges. You can learn more about all of the teams, track advisors, and judges in our online program here.
Northwestern’s most promising student entrepreneurs from across Northwestern were part of VentureCat. Represented in this year’s semifinalists is Kellogg School of Management, Weinberg, McCormick, Medill, Pritzker, the School of Education and Social Policy, the School of Communication, School of Professional Studies, and Feinberg.
Semifinals were held privately prior to the Public Showcase via Zoom with panels of experts. First and second place winners in each track were selected, and the first place winner of each track in addition to one wildcard team chosen from second place teams, moved to a closed finals round. This year the first place winner of each track won a $9,000 prize and second place teams received $6,000.
All 25 semifinalist teams also received a $1,000 award immediately after being selected this April.
Business Products & Services
First Place: Por Adela
Por Adela is the smart factoring solution for truckers that will help small and medium sized truckers grow in LATAM.
Jaime Tabachnik, Kellogg ’22
Second Place: Authentic Media Ascension (AMA)
Authentic Media Ascension (AMA) helps creators build communities and grow their businesses.
Jihad Esmail, Weinberg ’21; Mateo Price, Weinberg ’21; Lainey Dow, Medill ’23; Karan Agrawal, McCormick ’23; Leo Serdar, Weinberg ’24; Peyton Zona, Weinberg ’22; Lauren Huttner, Medill ’24
Consumer Products & Services
First Place: LUKH
LUKH is an online rental service dedicated to making South Asian fashion and culture accessible in the US.
Karen Desai, Kellogg ’22; Katie Andrew, Kellogg ’22; Alisha Daga, Kellogg ’22
Second Place: Rhetoric
Rhetoric is a companion to video conferencing applications that provides real-time feedback on spoken communication.
Raman Malik, Kellogg and McCormick ’22
Energy & Sustainability
First Place: Agroco
Agroco is a modular farming solution that aspires to improve global food production by bridging the gap between conventional agriculture and controlled-environment farms.
Lorenzo Hernandez, McCormick ’21; Ben Sych, McCormick ’21; Evan Gorski, McCormick ’21
Second Place: blip energy
blip provides a smart battery for renters that provides backup power that pays for itself.
Sophia Wennstedt, Kellogg and McCormick ’22; Thibaut Feremans, Kellogg ’21
Life Sciences & Medical Innovations
First Place: Agora Health, LLC
Agora Health is a digital disease management platform for patients with chronic GI conditions.
Sam Jactel, Kellogg ’21
Second Place: Verboso
Verboso is a full-stack speech therapy service providing engaging, effective and affordable therapy.
Michael Young, McCormick ’22
Social Impact & Nonprofit
First Place: The Equal Opportunity Book Box
The Equal Opportunity Book Box is a subscription service for diverse children's books that donates one book to an underserved child for every book sold.
Jacob Jordan, SESP ’20 and SPS ’21; Stephanie Shin, Medill ’21; Anthony Cruz, McCormick ’22
Second Place: springrose
springrose designs adaptive, attractive intimates for women with upper mobility and/or dexterity challenges (e.g., arthritis, stroke paralysis, nerve damage, shoulder injuries).
Nicole Cuervo, Kellogg and McCormick ’22; Natalie Coletta, Kellogg ’22; Courtney Weldon, Kellogg and McCormick ’21; Hans Rojas, Kellogg ’21
The VentureCat 2021 Wildcard pick was: springrose!
Finalist teams and the wildcard team pitched in a closed session with our panel of finals judges, including Priti Youssef Choksi, Kellogg ’03, Partner at Norwest Venture Partners; Patrick Eggen, Weinberg ’98, Kellogg ’04, Founding General Partner at Counterpart Ventures; Chris Erickson, McCormick ’04, Co-founder & Managing Partner at Range Ventures; Anna Haghgooie, Managing Director at Blue Venture Fund and Sandbox Industries; Brian Hill, CEO/Founder at Edovo; and Matt McCall, Kellogg '91, MMM '92, Partner at Pritzker Group Venture Capital. Judges then deliberated - while the staff was busy behind the scenes prepping for the live Public Showcase.
We kicked off this year’s livestream with Melissa Kaufman, executive director of The Garage as our emcee to share more about VentureCat, its participants, and sponsors. Then it was time for finalist pitches! But before we could announce our finals prize winners, we asked our audience to cast their vote for their favorite. Hundreds of text votes were tallied live and LUKH won the $2,000 Audience Vote Prize!
It was also at this time that we shared the winner of the Alumni Favorite Elevator Pitch Competition and $1,000. Congratulations to Authentic Media Ascension (AMA)!
Third place, and an additional $25,000 was awarded to: springrose
Second place, and $50,000, went to: The Equal Opportunity Book Box
First place, and the grand prize of $150,000 was awarded to: Por Adela
Congratulations to ALL of the VentureCat participants - finalists, semifinalists, and winners. We look forward to following your entrepreneurial journeys!