by Mark T Wayne
“Admirable! Superlative! Top of the list! Gentlemen, you are indeed fortunate that I invited you here!” I study the greedy faces of my two compatriots—the estimable Donatas Ludditis (good old Don) as well as the execrable Loop Lonagan and his stinking bull terrier, Clamps. (Claims it’s a therapy dog.) We are here as judges, along with a crowd of luminaries from Chicago’s startup community for the finals of the tenth annual POWER PITCH competition. Today we will hear pitches from a host of exciting new companies. Yes sir! The enthusiasm is riveting.
Don bows politely and speaks like a gentleman. “Am glad I come,” he says in his charming Lithuanian accent.
Lonagan leers at me. “Lemme at ‘em,” he says in his gutter lingo.
The IN2 Accelerator
I scan the ranks of judges and note representatives of the Business Plan Police lurking in the wings. We want no trouble from them. But I must familiarize my guests with the program. “This, gentlemen, is IN2—potentially the greatest startup accelerator of its kind in the world, with facilities available at a mere handful of elite universities” I sweep my arm in an arc to indicate our magnificent surroundings. “Offices here and at the huge 1871 incubator.”
Clamps releases one resounding bark—basso profundo—and lolls a broad tongue out over enormous teeth. From a suitcoat pocket, Lonagan produces a hunk of meat. He tosses it into the gaping maw—just as the teeth snap closed in hungry abandon. This animal and its uncouth owner make up a last-minute replacement, foisted upon me by the editor.
On stage, Dr. Carl Heine announces the first competitor. With a cane, I prod my guests and lower my voice to a whisper. “Don’t make me ashamed, you two derelicts.” Don straightens his back and faces front with all due alacrity and respect. Lonagan slouches like the slob he is. The round begins:
IN2 Maker Space
Fifty percent of all residential fires are cooking related. This company uses sound waves—yes, sound waves—to extinguish fires automatically. It is safe. It is neat. It does not belch messy fluid or poisonous gas, as do other fire suppression methods. We watch a video showing the system in action and the audience bustles with delight. Amazing!
“Five minutes!” The shout stops the speaker in mid-sentence. That is the kind of strict discipline that warms my heart. But even under the gun of limited time, their business plan is complete with financial projections, marketing plan, intellectual property, and go-to-market strategy. Well coached, sir! Very well coached!
Moises Goldman – Judge
Lonagan elbows Don and whispers: “Deeze guys look kinda young, doncha think?” The response to his juvenile utterance gets cut short when the next company is introduced:
The Oil Magnet
This is a new technology for cleaning oil slicks. They disburse magnetic nanoparticles into the spill, and then recover black gold with a magnetic boom. A demonstration unit elicits gasps from the crowd—the team pulls off this whiz-bang presentation with thoroughness and aplomb. I believe I’m sensing a rhythm to this event.
The foul Lonagan leans over to me and mutters with his rank breath and wet voice: “How old d’ya s’pose dem guys is?”
“Shush! You, sir, are making a mistake. Mark your judging sheet.” I thump the document with a finger. “The next company is already speaking.” I cannot abide ludicrous interruptions during business hours.
Ninety six billion dollars of crops are lost annually due to pests, standing water, and soil degradation. This company uses drones and GPS to scan farm fields automatically, in both the visible and infrared spectrums. They scrutinize images against a large computer database and detect damage down to the individual plant. And they do it cheaply. Their mentor is DuPont.
Don nudges my arm and leans close to my ear, speaking with hushed tones in his broken English: “In old country, I not see anything like this. Is just high school. Am impressed!”
Apparently overhearing, Lonagan lets out a shout of desperation: “Hey, yer sayin’ dis’s a high school?—a high school?” After this inane utterance, he buries his face in both hands and moans as if in deep pain. “And youse guys dragged me outa bed! On Saturday!” His outburst elicits a perplexed expression from the speaker and rumblings of outrage from the judges and crowd. Clamps leaps against his master and howls. I am astonished—astonished I say—that the man only just noticed the fact that this is indeed a high school. True, it does not look like one, but nobody can be that obtuse.
I am unable to restrain myself from delivering a rebuke, and do not spare any volume: “Sir, your puerile reaction is entirely inappropriate to the situation!” I fix my stare until the man squirms.
Clamps wags his tail as I continue:
“This, sir, is THE high school—IMSA—the Illinois Math and Science Academy—the statewide school for the highly gifted! You may find other schools riddled with dropouts and illiterate stooges that quickly jettison whatever knowledge they accidentally absorb, but these students WANT to lead society! At this fine institution, 99.8% of the graduates go to college! Many of the businesses you see here come to fruition and these students intern at actual startup companies around the city!”
Mark T Wayne
As my gaze bores into his soul, the man appears badly stunned. Dare I tell him that some of these teams are middle school students? Those around us seem well satisfied with my lecture, but I cannot be certain that any real ideas penetrate Lonagan’s frontal lobe. From under my shaggy brows, I pin my friend Don with a meaningful glance and tilt my head in the general direction of the foul perpetrator and his dog.
Don immediately comes to my rescue: “Loop! Is great place! Not gangs here! No drugs! No fear!”
“Whatsa funna dat?”
Don keeps at him. “Faculty 47% PhD!”
“Piled Higher ‘n’ Deeper.”
Dr. Heine spares us further histrionics by introducing the next pitch.
What grandpa is ever without his cane? This company makes a smart cane with medical reminders, loud SOS alarm location tracking, geo fencing, pedometer, and Bluetooth. It folds up and is easy to use. My walking stick seems inadequate by comparison. What an excellent idea!
Fifty thousand people a year die from epileptic seizures. It’s a $27.8B market. This company makes a device that detects the problem, alerts the caregiver’s phone, and keeps a trail of raw data.
Lonagan slurrs out a belligerent question:
“How y’gonna run a business ‘n’ finish yer education at da same time?” The man has gone from judge to heckler and I find myself acutely embarrassed for him. The team covered this point in its presentation. Like most of these companies, it will license its technology—in my view, an elegant and fully reasonable solution.
This is a new way to teach numbers to children with disabilities, and the team seems to have cracked the problem. They’re already working with neuropsychology experts and marketing their methods through a reputable center for the care of children with Downs Syndrome.
Lonagan scratches his monstrous dog behind the ears and puts another question: “How y’gonna scale a thing like dat?”
This slurred interrogatory barely precedes the flashing of a badge. “Business Plan Police. Please come along quietly, sir.” Lonagan immediately balls a fist and clouts the officer to the floor.
Clamps licks the stricken man’s face. The officer regains consciousness and blows his whistle.
From out of the crowd, three musclebound agents pile onto Lonagan and hustle him out of the room like a roll of carpet. I catch a glimpse of his feet kicking and hear him spew a few choice and utterly foul invectives as he disappears out the door. Clamps bounds after them, tail wagging vigorously.
The crowd hushes a moment, then shrugs off the incident and Don lets out a sigh. “Is bad. I wonder do we ever see Loop again.”
I also feel somewhat perplexed about such a questionable privilege. In any given year, the Business Plan Police arrest a number of startups—never to be seen again—but I have never known them to abduct a judge at a pitch competition. I can now relax. It makes me most grateful.
Three high school teams will advance to the regionals. (Lower grades compete and are rewarded, but they cannot advance.) Last year, IMSA won the top three slots at the regional competition. Here are the results of today’s event:
Jim Gerry – IMSA
1st Place – $1500 – award sponsor: Charles Whittaker
- OIL MAGNET – Marisa Patel-O’Conner, Eden Gorevoy & Sol Hwangbo (Juniors at IMSA)
- iCANE – Umika Arora (7th grade at St. Catherine Laboure School)
2nd Place – $1000 – award sponsor: Deliciousness
- FLAMELESS – Sivam Bhatt & Nikhil Madugula (Seniors at IMSA)
- RETHINK NUMERACY – Akshaya Raghavan (Junior at IMSA)
3rd Place – $500 – Award sponsor: After the Peanut
- epilEXPERT – Monika Narain (8th grade at Mead Jr High) & Jayant Kumar (7th grade at Grainger Middle School)
- SERIES – Andre Wiedenmann & Tommy Neidlein
Britta McKenna – IMSA
Other Companies (alphabetical)
- 21 C2 – Maryam Mufti, Erika Ezife
- ACTIV8 – Anusha Trivedi
- AMENITY – Sonia Edassery, Milica Barac
- COMMUTE – Natalie Sanchez
- BRIDGE TUTORING – Armando Pizano, David Gonzalez, Cain Yepez & Stefany Boyas
- ENABLE EQUITY – Rachel Mason, Shikha
- GOGO RIDERS – Rishi Modi
- IDEAL SUGAR – Maya Wlodarczyk
- IDROGENY TECHNOLOGY – Sricharan Sanakkayala
- IMMERSION – Neil John, Samuel Anozie, Samantha Alexis Lehman
- INSPIRULINA – Meghan Hendrix, Kanika Leang, Harsha Nalam
- INSTA-VILLAGE – Catelyn Rounds & Julian Kroschke
- INTELLIFIT – Steven Andreev
- INTELLI-TEST – Akash Basavaraju
- PHOCUS – Matthew Selvaraj, Louise Lima, Vaishnavi Vanamala, Eric Errampalli, Arthur Lu
- POCKET PASS – Ajay Jayaraman
- PROMETHEA – Ayush Bhalavat, Ian Son
- SAVE OUR STARVING SOULS – Shreya Parepally, Sofie Heidrich
- SCHOOLBOARD – Samuel Anozie, Aryan Walia, Mary Ashley Tenedor
- SHINDIG – Nikita Elkin
- TAKE HOME – Aliah Shaira De Guzman, Michelle Sia, Aryan Walia
- TRANSSPEED – Atharva Gawde
- THINKING CAP – Nishant Bhamidipati, Ryan Talusan, Micah Casey-Fusco
- VIRTUPEACE – Michael McKelvie, Max Knutson
- UNITED 5 AEROSPACE – Levi Raskin, Duncan Osmund, Wyatt Funkhouser, Ethan Tse
Dr. Carl Heine – IMSA
IMSA IN2 Contact Info
Address – 1500 Sullivan Rd. Aurora, IL 60506
Website – https://www.imsa.edu/
Dr. Carl Heine – firstname.lastname@example.org
Britta McKenna – email@example.com
Photography – John Jonelis
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