In the competitive, first-to-market, startup world, pitch sessions are often about who can catch the eye of the investor with the deepest pockets. But what if a pitch contest were held solely on the self-defined concept of ‘cool,’ where the determinant of the top 10 finalists, is the Chicago startup community? What types of companies would emerge victorious?
During the Chicago’s Coolest Startup Award competition, launched by the non-profit Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC), five-thousand votes from the community quickly whittled 300 nominated companies to ten semi-finalists: Caremerge, Conferences.i, Fundology, Georama, Lock, Peter Field Custom, PrettyQuick, SceneTap, Shotfarm, and StyleSeek.
“The whole idea came from a need to focus on the early community, early stage startups,” says Jasmine Slivka, programming coordinator at 1871 — a co-working space managed by the CEC. “Once we had that based on nominations, we opened it up to public vote.
Then, on September 12, a panel of three — Gregg Kaplan, CEC board member; Talia Mashiach, founder and CEO Eved; and Marina Dedes, vice president at Lightbank, combined with a second public vote, rooted out the three finalists.
They are Andrew Nieman of SceneTap, an app which enables users to receive information about an unfamiliar bar, or restaurant, based on the age, quantity, and gender of the people already inside it; Coco Meers of PrettyQuick, an app that enables those in immediate need of a hairdresser, to book last-minute beauty appointments at a desired time and location; and Asif Khan of Caremerge, a set of web and mobile applications allowing for communication and care coordination for senior living communities.
The three entrepreneurs, all of whom attribute a portion of their current success to mentors and time spent at 1871, will compete once more during a pitch at the CEC Momentum Awards Dinner, at Millennium Park, on Wednesday, October 2nd.
“I liked [the concept] because it wasn’t about raising capital, it wasn’t about the same old, same old,” says Khan, founder and CEO of Caremerge. “We saw a few flavors of presentations, people experimenting with different things. It was about a bunch of entrepreneurs [who] are trying to change the world to be a better place. Everybody enjoyed it.”
“I’d say the thing that makes our company ‘cool’ is that we’re solving a problem that plagues everyone around the world,” says Nieman, co-owner and director of business development for SceneTap. “No matter what age you are, what country you live in, what language you speak, there’s no one before that hasn’t wondered, what that place was gonna be like before I got there.”
Meers, founder and CEO of PrettyQuick, will use her time at the Momentum Awards dinner to reveal some new plans.
“We’re unrolling some really big expansions in our company right now,” she says. “We’ll been focusing on one segment of the market and we’re opening that up.”
There are no big cash prizes, but the opportunity to pitch at the Momentum Awards gives these starters a tremendous thrust, given that they will be in the company of business honorees such as Chicago Cubs chairman, Tom Ricketts, and PNC regional president, Scott C. Swanson.
At $800 a ticket, a seat to Tuesday night’s Gala doesn’t come cheap. But, it’s the ideal place for entrepreneurs looking to rub elbows with people endowed with deep pockets looking for that next ‘cool’ thing.
[See semi-finalists pitch photos HERE at Blackline Review’s Flickr page. All still photos in the video above by Dabney Lyles ©Blackline Review]