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Devin D. Thorpe

Devin Thorpe

Student Startups Pitch For $100,000 In Capital At VentureCat Competition

Northwestern’s best, brightest and most promising student startups to compete May 24

  • Winning team will take home $35,000 in prize money “with no strings attached” 
  • 25 semifinalist teams participating in four-week pitch prep program
  • Students benefit from “system of controlled chaos” and entrepreneurial ecosystem at Northwestern

Press Release – EVANSTON, Ill. — Northwestern University VentureCat, the annual competition that brings together the best, brightest and most-promising student-founded startups from across the University, will take place May 24 on the Evanston campus.

“Unlike many other similar competitions, the prize money at VentureCat is non-dilutive capital, meaning there is no equity taken nor any strings attached,” said Melissa Kaufman, executive director of The Garage, Northwestern’s hub for student entrepreneurship and innovation.

Northwestern’s most promising student startup teams will pitch their ventures to a panel of judges, clearly articulating problems they are solving and their solutions. They also need to prove they have assembled the right team and have a clear go-to-market strategy. The winning team will take home $35,000 in non-dilutive prize money.

New this year, all 25 semifinalist teams are participating in a four-week-long semifinalist pitch prep program. The program includes: pitch coaching from University faculty and staff, advice from industry experts and professional graphic design support. This will level the playing field, allowing undergraduates, graduates and Ph.D. students to compete on equal footing. (See the VentureCat feature page with a video clip of The Garage’s Melissa Kaufman, offering top tips to semifinalists.)

Keynote speakers

This year’s keynote speakers are Nathan Cooper and Rebecca Sholiton, who won third place in the competition last year for Eat Pakd, a company that creates fresh, custom lunches for children and adults, delivered directly to their homes.

Eat Pakd was built at Northwestern while Cooper and Sholiton were students at the Kellogg School of Management. As student entrepreneurs, they grew their venture and incubated their startup at The Garage. Eat Pakd has since grown into a successful Chicago-based startup, offering weekly delivery of wholesome meals.

VentureCat and Chicago landscape difference compared with Silicon Valley

VentureCat also is distinguished by its organization of competitors in industry-specific tracks, which leverages the rich expertise of distinct schools from across the University in both graduate and undergraduate programs.

“Northwestern student startups span many different industries, as exemplified in VentureCat’s six distinct tracks,” Kaufman said. “Chicago, like Northwestern, thrives in a number of industries. There are also many students building physical products, whereas in Silicon Valley a lot of startups are pure software. This speaks to Chicago’s strong manufacturing roots and the evolution of new product-focused spaces like mHUB. Chicago is well positioned to thrive at the intersection of software and hardware, which has been discussed in the media lately as the “Chicago Maker-Entrepreneur.”

“A system of controlled chaos” at Northwestern

VentureCat is a coordinated effort with the Kellogg School of Management, The Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurial Law Center, The Garage and the Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO). Faculty, staff and students from across the University also contribute as event organizers, volunteers and pitch coaches.

VentureCat and The Garage were developed to allow for “a system of controlled chaos,” said Alicia Löffler, executive director of INVO. They capture the projects and startups that rise to the top, showcasing nearly all the promising student ventures that may one day change the world.

“Students play a central role in our strategy to support a vibrant and distinctive entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Löffler said.

VentureCat is a game changer

For Alexei Mlodinow, a member of the SurgiNet team that competed last year, VentureCat was a game changer.

“Not only did the format force the story to be sharper for future investor presentations, it provided an early bonus of non-dilutive capital at a time when I hadn’t even finished the MBA program,” he said. “That helped us get up and running in the summer and contributed to the development of the product that is now finished and ready for preclinical trials starting next month.”

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