Sixth Annual Momentum Awards Raises $1.8 Million at Gala Dinner

For the first time, in the six years of the Momentum Awards, three ground-floor startup companies were featured on the stage along with the heavyweights. The startup pitches were a hit with the audience of 900 entrepreneurs, investors, and supporters of Chicago entrepreneurship, who each paid $800 to dine inside crisp party tents staked at Millennium Park. Together, they raised $1.8 million to support the efforts of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC) — a non-profit organization tasked with promoting the growth of Chicago’s burgeoning entrepreneurial community and managing the startup co-working space, 1871.

Traditionally a night to recognize established members of Chicago’s business community, several profitable companies, and the people who run them, were recognized that evening. The Merrick Momentum Award, whose finalists are selected based on revenue traction and near-term growth plans, was awarded to Cleversafe, a big-data solution company.

“Cleversafe is creating a strong economic impact on Chicago and they are fast becoming a recognized leader in the community,” says Jim O’Connor, Jr., the interim CEO and co-chairman of the CEC Board of Directors. “We hope that the Momentum Awards acknowledgement helps to broaden recognition of their incredible accomplishments to date and plays a small part in their future growth and success.”

Tom Ricketts, Chicago Cubs owner and chairman, was honored with the CEC’s 2013 Entrepreneurial Champion Award. PNC Bank, and regional president of PNC Bank in Illinois, Scott Swanson were announced the CEC Corporate Champion. BrightTagGuaranteed Rate and SMS-Assist were the other finalists for this year’s Momentum Award.

One new prize added this year — The Coolest Startup Award — is given to a ground floor company. The selection is based on votes from the community and a panel of judges. The first-ever award went to Scenetap, a social application which reveals real-time demographics of a bar or  restaurant. The highly popular contest, which drew in nearly 300 nominations and five-thousand public votes during weeks of preliminary rounds in September, produced two other finalistsCareMerge and Pretty Quick.

Andrew Nieman, director of business development for SceneTap, pitched at the Momentum Awards dinner for his team. He recalls a tense 30 minutes when he and the other two finalists waited for the announcement of the winner by Kevin Willer, former president and CEO of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center. Nieman says he felt confident of his performance despite the vibrant presentations of the other two finalists — Pretty Quick founder and CEO, Coco Meers, and Asif Khan, founder and CEO of Caremerge. In the end, team SceneTap walked away with a $10-thousand check of seed money.

“I was thrilled. The audience reactions were very encouraging,” says Nieman. “I definitely felt like our product had connected with them. It was amazing to see the overwhelming support.”

Members of SceneTap, many of whom could not afford a seat to the pricey meal, were present, nonetheless.

“We weren’t able to get dinner tickets for everyone so many of them stood, the entire time, in the back of the tent because they refused to miss it,” he says. “I’m so grateful that they did because it was a hugely motivational night for the whole team.” ❒

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