Chicago Booth announces winners of 2015 New Venture Challenge and Social New Venture Challenge

Maestro and BallotReady take home top prizes in nationally ranked accelerator program finals, which awarded $600,000 in cash and business services to student startups

The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and its Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Social Enterprise Initiative are pleased to announce the winners of the 19th Annual Edward L. Kaplan, '71, New Venture Challenge (NVC) and the 5th Annual John Edwardson, '72, Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC), two tracks in one of the nation's top-rated startup launch programs. Winners of the 2015 NVC:

  • Maestro, a smart countertop appliance that cooks a healthy meal by itself, was the first place winner. It was awarded $70,000, which included $20,000 as part of being accepted into the Pritzker Group Venture Fellows program.
  • ExplORer Surgical, a workflow management tool for surgical teams, was tied for second and received $50,000, including $20,000 for its acceptance into the Pritzker Group Venture Fellows Program.
  • NETenergy, a thermal energy storage company, also a second place winner, received $40,000. This included $10,000 for receiving the Khosa Maker Award which recognizes companies that contribute to the manufacturing economy.
  • Alameda and TaskPath tied for third, and each team received $25,000. Alameda serves as Mexico’s first furniture and home decor online marketplace. TaskPath is a mobile and online app designed to improve productivity among fieldworkers.
  • Three finalists: Ascent, Virtual Key, and Weelio each took home $10,000. Remaining finalists Aluminate and Glace each won $5,000.

The winning teams will also share in $250,000 of in-kind services including office space, legal services, and professional consulting.

Launched in 1996, Chicago Booth's NVC was designed to help students create and launch new businesses. In 2015, the NVC was named the No. 1 university accelerator program in the nation.

"This year's NVC was extremely competitive, adhering to the high standards set by previous teams," said Ellen Rudnick, executive director of the Polsky Center. "The teams in the 2015 program — whether or not they made it to the finals — have a great chance of getting launched and further showcase why the NVC has been recognized as the top university accelerator program in the country."

Winners of the 2015 SNVC, which launches enterprises with a social impact mission and a plan for financial sustainability, are:

  • BallotReady, an online voter guide that provides tailored, easy-to-digest information on candidates and referendums listed on local ballots, won first place, receiving $30,000.
  • Arev Armenia, which creates economic growth in rural areas of Armenia by marketing and distributing Armenian natural goods in the international market, took home second place, receiving $20,000.
  • Other finalist teams included: Amma, CrowdFundEd, Duam, SLAP’D, and Strawvival.

The winning teams will also receive a share in $50,000 of in-kind services.

"The teams that competed in this year's program were remarkably strong, and exemplified the growth of the SNVC and the social entrepreneurship community at the University of Chicago," said Robert H. Gertner, Joel F. Gemunder Professor of Strategy and Finance, deputy dean for the Part-Time MBA Programs, and faculty co-director of SEI at Chicago Booth. "SEI is proud to support these outstanding entrepreneurs, and we look forward to seeing their next moves."

More than 100 judges — experienced entrepreneurs, investors hailing from top venture capital firms, and other service firms from around the country, including many Chicago Booth alumni — provide constructive criticism and industry expertise throughout the program. Charles Adler, founder of Kickstarter; Bryan Johnson, '07, founder of Braintree and the OS Fund; and Matt McCall, partner at Pritzker Group Venture Capital are just a few of the 2015 judges. A full list can be found on the NVC website.

About the New Venture Challenge

Since its launch in 1996, the Edward L. Kaplan, '71, New Venture Challenge program has awarded more than $1.75 million in cash prizes, plus more than $2.25 million in business services. Over the past 19 years, the program helped launch more than 100 companies, which have gone on to raise over $365 million in funding and $4 billion in mergers and exits.

The program has expanded to include four academic yearlong tracks, offering tailored programming to meet the needs of the University of Chicago's diverse student body: the NVC, SNVC, Global NVC, and College NVC.

NVC alumni companies include Base, BenchPrep, BloomNation, Braintree, Caremerge, GrubHub, InContext Solutions, LuminAID, MedSpeed, Moneythink, and Reliefwatch, among others.

About the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation provides immersive, experiential learning and venture acceleration resources for University of Chicago students and alumni who are interested in entrepreneurship, private equity, venture capital, entrepreneurship through acquisition, or taking their existing businesses to the next level. Located within the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the Polsky Center's mission has expanded to serve as the venture creation engine for the entire UChicago campus thanks to the support and generosity of Michael P. Polsky, MBA '87.

About the Social Enterprise Initiative

Launched in 2012, the Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI) at Chicago Booth supports the aspirations of students and alumni to impact societal issues and furthers research on how institutions help solve social problems.

As the line between the public and private sectors grows increasingly blurred, a multidisciplinary approach is critical to engage leaders across fields. Through ongoing curricular development, alumni and student programming, and support of faculty pursuits, SEI seeks to foster both leadership on the ground and rigorous academic research which are vital to addressing the complex issues our society faces.