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5 STARTUPS WE LOVED FROM TECHWEEK

Chicago’s Launch Competition

techweek-logo T

 

by Jeff Segal

Why does a B2B digital marketing agency that works with some of the biggest and best-known companies in America send a team to a startup competition?

Because marketing and startups actually have a lot in common.

  • Marketing is about problem solving, and startups are founded to solve problems.
  • Marketing is about storytelling, and every startup has a story.
  • Finally, a great marketing campaign and a successful startup both make people say, Wow, I wish I’d thought of that!

Out of the dozens of startups entered in last week’s Techweek Launch competition, here are five that made me and my coworkers say, “Wow!”

Techweek

 

CAST21

Technology has revolutionized nearly every aspect of healthcare in the last 20 years. But if you break your arm, your cast will look and feel just like one from 50 years ago.

Cast 21 wants to change that. Their lattice design—stiff on the inside, soft on the outside—lets patients shower and even swim, and lets doctors dress and treat the affected skin underneath. No more itching, no more smell.

Cast21

CEO Ashley S. Moy explains, “Our co-founder [and bio-mechanical engineer] Jason Troutner wore casts for nearly three years of his life. He was passionate about solving the complications that accompanied the casts, and his energy was contagious. We knew there was no other option but to change the way people heal broken bones.”

 

COMMON CENTS

If you know a college student or recent grad, you’ve probably heard about the increasing burden students loans are putting on the youngest members of our workforce.

Some recent University of Chicago graduates have designed a platform that makes paying off loans a little easier. Common Cents connects mobile spending apps like Venmo to a student’s loan accounts, so spare change from everyday purchases goes directly toward paying those loans down.

Common Cents

How much difference can a few cents here and there make? Co-founder Madeleine Barr says an average student who puts just $1.33 per day toward loan repayment can save more than $3,000 before finishing school, and more than $20,000 over the lifetime of a loan.

She adds, “As recent graduates with student debt, we are building the app we wish existed for us.”

 

FIND YOUR DITTO

Find your Ditto CEO Brianna Wolin has lived with multiple chronic illnesses since she was four years old. And she spent four stressful years at college without meeting a single other person living with the same conditions.

Her solution: build a mobile platform that allows people to make local, on-demand connections with others living with the same chronic illness. These connections can help relieve the isolation and depression that so often accompany chronic conditions like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, diabetes, cancer and eating disorders.

Find Your Ditto

 

The result: Within five days of Brianna starting the Find Your Ditto pilot at the University of Michigan, another female student with exactly her same conditions had signed up.

 

FLIPWORD

If you read lots of online content, Flipword can help you learn a new language without special classes or software.

Like many startups, the idea for Flipword came from a real-life problem. CEO Thomas Reese was trying to teach himself Mandarin, but didn’t have time to study. One day while browsing the web, it hit him that he could learn Mandarin at the same time.

Flipword

The concept is mind-bogglingly simple. Read whatever online content you like, and Flipword replaces a few words per page with words from the language you want to learn, along with definitions and pronunciations. Maravilloso!

 

HERE 2

Jelani Floyd, CEO of Here2, explains how this “pop-up social broadcasting” app came to be:

“My brother and I attended a Bulls game at the United Center. We noticed so many people around us taking photos and videos and we wondered, where was all this content going? We searched hashtags on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, but we could not find any content relevant to that game.

“We posted a photo to Facebook, and one of our friends—whom we had no idea who was also at the game—commented on our pic and said ‘I’M HERE TOO!!’”

Here 2

Here2 locates users geographically, so they can connect with each other in real time without having to guess hashtags or channels. And users who can’t make an event can still get authentic insight from the crowd’s perspective—the next best thing to being “here too!”

 

Links to the Five Companies

Cast21

Common Cents

Find Your Ditto

Flipword

Here2

Jeff Segal

Jeff Segal writes blogs and social content for digital B2B marketing agency StudioNorth, while crusading tirelessly against the words provide, quality, strive and utilize. This post originally appeared at Inside the Studio, the StudioNorth blog.

Check out Stories We’ve Told and Techweek Launch Competition

Graphics courtesy Jeff Segal


Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2016 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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WHAT MAKES IT GOOD

Techweek Part 4 –

Two Points T

by storied business consultant, Joe Perogi,

as told to John Jonelis –

Been hearin’ complaints ‘n’ controversy about Techweek this year. People gripe so you figure there’s gotta be a good reason, right? Yeah, I hear you. Yer sayin’, where there’s smoke there’s fire. But all them critics completely miss THE HIDDEN ROOM that you and me stumple upon—the hidden room that makes this thing truly amazing. Now the dust is settled, lemme take you on a tour o’ what I seen.

First, permit me t’ introduce myself. Name’s J. P. Pierogiczikowski, but you can call me Joe Perogi. Everybody else does. They say I have way too much fun. Maybe they’re right. Confidentially, there’s alotta money in it, too.

Da Speakers

We meet at the office in the backroom o’ Ludditis Shots & Beer.

Ludditis Shots and Beer 3

It’s just a good stretch o’ the legs from here to the Chicago Merchandise Mart and we get there in fifteen minutes easy. This event takes up a whole floor and gets a special elevator.

On this tour, you and me start in a room packed with chairs and people eager to hear Sal Khan of Khan Academy—one o’ da featured speakers. I wanna hear this guy. His company solves problems in education. Uses technology to help the kids learn ‘n’ helps the teachers make better use o’ their time. That’s huge. I’m figure this is gonna be good.

Khan Academy’s gonna partner with big business—a move that’ll give ‘em a longer reach. None of us know about that at the time—all we wanna do is hear the guy talk.

Look at that outrageously pretty lady on stage. Now she’s tellin’ us how great the speaker is. Now she points out the big screen. Hey, Sal Khan ain’t even here. You’re here. I’m here. We paid to be here. All these other people are here, too. But no Sal. He’s on Skype. So I’m a little bit offended, but whaddaya gonna do? They call it Techweek, so I figure we’ll give it our best shot.

All the computers crash at Sal’s office out in California or wherever he really is. But Sal’s no quitter. He carries on—with his smartphone. Ever notice how people believe them smartphones can do anything? Maybe it’s ‘cause they call ‘em smart when they’re really just pocket-size computers waitin’ to go wrong.

THE MERCHANDISE MARTWe look at the big screen and see this faded picture of Sal Kahn. You can tell he’s holdin’ the phone too close to his face. That’s why he looks kinda distorted. And he’s got a lousy connection—maybe one bar, tops. Truth be told, none of us can get our phones working here in the Chicago Merchandise Mart. Too much concrete. But apparently the organizers think smart phones is a smart move. So we sit through snips and swipes o’ Sal’s voice, cutting in and out. Nobody knows what the hell he’s saying. It creates a feeling of suspense, doncha think? I mean, the way that distorted face skips and jerks across the faded auditorium screen.

Why don’t anybody get up and walk out? Easy. It’s that gorgeous gal on stage—she’s really somethin’. Class. Intelligent-looking. Businesslike. She apologizes. Now she’s promising they’s gonna fix the problem. Now she’s watching that big screen with such intense interest—like she can understand what he’s sayin’ and she’s hangin’ on every word. She creates in us what they call a sense of suspended belief. (I read that somewhere.) And it keeps everybody in their seats.

Sal keeps cutting in and out till his battery dies and that means, lecture over. It teaches me a lesson: It’s usually more about marketing than technology. But you don’t know that till the technology breaks down.

Did I mention that the Blackhawk’s rally is going on downtown today?Blackhawk logo You don’t wanna go? Hey—they won the Stanley Cup. It’s a big deal. Okay then, let’s crash a few more presentations.

So we take in summore lectures. Seems like every speaker talks in some important-sounding corporate lingo. It’s all meaningful stuff, right? Maybe it’s what they call high-elf—I dunno. I’m wishin’ I can be with the Blackhawk fans. So you and me ditch the lectures and hit the booths.

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Da Booths

There’s rows ‘n’ rows o’ these little islands o’ commerce packed side-by-side, with all sortsa people plugging up the floor and it all seems to go on forever. Pretty soon I get turned around and confused and everything’s a blur. Don’t it hit you that way, too? This place is so big, a guy can get lost in here real fast.

Look around. Everywhere it’s corporations hawking their wares. (There’s that word Hawk again.) Notice how most people just mill past the booths. Except fer that one—the one serving free booze. We stop there for a while. Pretty good, huh?

FREE BOOZE

So I learn a second lesson, but it don’t hit me till later: Big corporations waste lots of money. But they help an event pay the bills.

Then, just when I’m about to give up and say goodbye, we find the hidden room.

startup city logo

Da Hidden Room

See that wall with the huge Startup City logo painted on it? Looks like a dead end, don’t it? We walk up and take a closer look at the artwork. There’s a small door on our right. We go through there and WHAM! It’s a whole ‘nother room packed with booths ‘n’ people ‘n’ lotsa noise. These is all startup companies. Seventy of ‘em. Ambitious entrepreneurs, brilliant inventors and gutsy financiers ready to take a risk on a new idea. This is where the action is. So let’s do the rounds. Hey, I know summa these people! I like this place!

And whaddaya know—they got a competition goin’. The judges go from booth to booth and try to pick out the five best startups. Which o’ these folks is the judges? I can’t tell. It’s kinda like a benched dog show.

Now we find out the winners are gonna get announced at a special event with the mayor. Our tickets ain’t good enough to get in—those tickets musta cost thousands! No problemo. We crash it.

We’re in and now the mayor’s up there giving a speech:

“…I think the city of Chicago will become the mecca of the Midwest in startup cities,” he says. IMG_9067“The city of Chicago is building the digital economy as the fifth pillar…” I gotta ask you: Where’d he get all that mecca and fifth pillar stuff? I mean I like the guy but them terms don’t feel right coming outa him. Maybe if he wore a keffiyeh or a turban er somethin’. Naw, that ain’t never gonna happen.

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Da Shortlist

Then they announce the winners. But I’m an investor and I got my own short list. Lemme tell you about ‘em:

cervia diagnostic logoCervia Diagnostic Innovations is gonna wipe out cervical cancer by replacing the age-old pap smear with a better test. They got all the research and their team’s fulla PhDs and Nobel Prize winners.

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PaletteApp logoPaletteApp is bringing architects and interior designers outa da closets and into the digital world and saving companies a whole lot of money.

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youtopia logoYoutopia is gettin’ high school kids emotionally involved in those service projects they gotta do and documenting the results fer the colleges they wanna get into. You got a high school kid? Then you know that’s something worthwhile.

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faspark logoFaspark is helpin’ us all find street parking for our jalopies. It’s based on data analytics and probability of success and reduces time cruising the streets by 70%. Shows up as a map on your phone. They’re setting up in Chicago and Munich at the same time.

UPDATE – Faspark now gives you parking garage information in addition to the street parking.  Check out this article in Crain’s Chicago Business.  

None o’ them great companies made the finals ‘n’ that makes me scratch my head. And now they announce the winner:

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Da Official Finalists

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wedeliver logoWeDeliverFirst Place. I gotta say, this one’s on my short list now I get to know ‘em, and there’s an article about them in this magazine. But this is my first look at ‘em. You ever see these guys before? Great business model. Terrific CEO. Tech enabled same-day local delivery for brick and mortar businesses. These guys is gonna level the playing field with Amazon and create a buncha jobs right here in Chicago—and that’s just fer starters.

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Crowdfynd LogoCrowdFynd is a lost-n-found service that uses crowdsourcing to find yer stuff.

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Furywing LogoFurywing is is a gambling play. I don’t like online gambling, but it ain’t my place to judge.

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24Fundraiser logo24Fundraiser is a one-stop solution fer online auctions.

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neststepio logoNextStep.io helps you get yer daily workout by usin’ yer daily routine. I like that idea a lot. Gotta find out more about this one.

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trinet logoThe whole Startup City production is sponsored by TriNet. I talked to them folks at length and came away impressed.

Then I get a big surprise on the way home:

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Da Hawks

I ride the water taxi to the train and it turns out I don’t miss the Blackhawks celebration after all. The train’s loaded with drunken smiling people singin’ songs, makin’ a whole lotta noise, and generally havin’ a great time. Now it’s my turn, so I belt out The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

IMG_9086-001

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Back to Part 3 – BNC TUESDAY NIGHT SMACKDOWN

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Photos courtesy Techweek, The Chicago Blackhawks, John Jonelis.  Logos courtesy companies.

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link . This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2013 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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TOP FIVE STARTUPS THAT DIDN’T MAKE TECHWEEK’S FINAL FIVE

Startup_CityTechweek – Part 1

By Jeff Segal – Message Therapist

I love startups. But I’m cheap. So I was happy to buy the $30 Expo pass to Techweek Chicago.  No way was I shelling out for the $650 VIP pass.

Which meant I got to browse Startup City and meet the founders of 70 startups, but couldn’t crash the LAUNCH Final Five event. And you know what? I’m sure it was lovely, but apparently they chose the finalists based on nothing more than concept, business model, strength of team and presentation. Bor-ing.

I selected mine, on the other hand, based on pure awesomeness. Will they succeed? Will they find funding? Do they have sufficiently unique value propositions? Who cares?

All that matters is, one way or another, these five startups struck me as brilliant.

.techweek_chicago

Editor’s Note – Next time, just crash the gates like I did by tagging along with YouTopia.  

And hey, everybody else in Chicago is at the parade celebrating the Blackhawk’s Stanley Cup victory!

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Best New Way for Shy People to Hook Up

Ever see an attractive stranger and wish you could connect without embarrassing yourself? Get yourself a deck of anonymous intro cards from Cheek’d. With messages like “I just put all my drinks on your tab” and “I’m totally cooler than your date,” the cards let the stranger connect to your profile without either of you seeing the other’s contact info. I love a tech startup that’s all about plain old, last-century cards, and the way you can make new connections without sharing everything with the whole world. It’s antisocial networking!

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Best Completely Pointless Time Waster

Yes, there are a zillion sites where people do nothing but post, share and vote on witty little comments, but I’ve never seen one with as cool a design or as obnoxious a name as F.U. I’m Right.

FU I'm Right

Plus, it made me LMAO. Sample question: “You catch your teenager with a dime bag.

  • A— Smoke it.
  • B—Dump it.”

(“Smoke it” is winning, 56% to 44%.) This is the kind of startup that gives startups a reputation as overhyped hangouts for overeducated frat boys with nothing better to do. God Bless America.

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Best Where-Was-This-When-I-Needed-It App

It’s Saturday night. My suburban wife and I head into the city to meet some friends at a bar near Belmont and Racine. It takes us 45 minutes to get there—and another 45 minutes to find a damn parking spot! Sure wish I’d known about Faspark. Faspark

You type in your destination and it gives you a neighborhood route, color-coded from most to least likely blocks to find parking. I haven’t tested it yet, but if it works as advertised it’s a watershed moment in Western Civilization.

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Best Slap-Your-Forehead Business Software

Remember back in the 90s when they said the Internet would create a paperless workplace? (Don’t say, No dude, I was still in grade school. Just don’t.) While we’re waiting for that miracle, PrintEco has developed an algorithmic plug-in that optimizes printed content so it fits on a smaller number of pages. And it’s free. You can keep all that software that saves money through streamlined processing or greater storage or maximized bandwidth or whatever. I’ll take the one that saves trees, too.

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Best Idea Your Friends Will Hate You For

“Are you a blogger?” they asked me at the Snip.ps booth. “Wouldn’t you like to get paid for it?” Well, sure. How it works is, you convert any link with your Snip.ps account and post it wherever. Then, every time someone clicks on your link, they have to watch an ad for 10 seconds before they get connected—and you get paid. I might just join. Not that I think I’ll make much money. But it will force me to ask myself, “Is this Tweet worth making my friends sit through a ten-second Morgan Stanley commercial?

Don’t like my winners? Check out the other 65 startups and pick your own. It’s not as much fun as cruising Startup City, but you’re still $30 ahead of me.

Jeff Segal Logo.

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Go to Part 2 – TECH CHILDREN

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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link . This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
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.Copyright © 2013 Jeff Segal – All Rights Reserved
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Filed under angel, angel capital, angel investor, big money, chicago, Chicago Ventures, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship and Politics, Events, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Invention, investor, Jeff Segal, Mobile, Mobile App, Social Media, Software, Techweek, vc, venture capital