This is a guest author piece by Rachel Hyman.
On November 29th, a day with gale-force winds, Technori held its fourth-ever Pitch event at the Chase Auditorium. With a sold-out crowd of over 500 and a diverse array of startups pitching, the event was an emphatic success featuring a great lineup of Chicago startups.
I was struck by the casualness of the entire evening. Revenue models were scarcely mentioned in any of the presentations or questions. Instead, the focus was on demoing the products, with more than one startup officially launching that day.
Even so, there seemed to be a wide spread in the audience members—”suits,” tech people, and young entrepreneurs in a community training program were all in attendance. The average age, maybe late 20s, was older than I had expected.
The event began right on time with Technori Co-Founder Seth Kravitz introducing keynote speaker Niko Drakoulis, Founder and CEO of Akoo. Akoo is an out-of-home television network, predominately in shopping malls across the country.
He laid out his three top pieces of advice for nascent startups—encouraging entrepreneurs to build their competitive advantage, find mentors early on, and seek out opportunities for capital. He interwove these tips with his own story of Akoo.
If I recall correctly, he said some 78 out of 85 investors he met with committed funds to his startup. That’s an astronomically high return rate, something that younger entrepreneurs with little to no business experience might find hard to relate to. I’ll look forward to seeing what other Chicago area entrepreneurs Technori brings in at future pitches, and I’d love to hear more talk about the growing entrepreneurship scene in the city.
Restaurant Bucket List
Ben Reid of Restaurant Bucket List kicked off the pitch portion of the event. Restaurant Bucket List is a Facebook app that allows you to track the places you’ve been to and those you want to visit. The thinking goes: if you and some of your friends have a place in common on your bucket lists, you’ll be impelled to round up a group and head out.
They illustrated with a little skit why the existing social networks (Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare) aren’t good for planning a restaurant outing. The brilliance of RBL is that it’s already integrated with a social infrastructure that people are accustomed to using, and it’s not a stretch to imagine users sharing their restaurant lists, given what many people already put up on Facebook.
The flipside is the potential for awkwardness if a Facebook friend who’s not really a friend invites you and your buddies to go out—a relatively trivial problem, though, and one that I imagine users of the app know how to gracefully deal with.
Next was Horatiu Boeriu with Grabio, an app that provides “real-time, location-aware classifieds.” Buyers tell the app what they’re looking for—textbooks, a phone—and are notified when someone who’s listed the item is in close proximity. Their pitch asserted that Craigslist is a mess, and Zaarly is buyer-powered, whereas Grabio seeks to hit both sides of the buyer/seller coin.
I like the “discovery” function (where you put in a request for something like sports tickets and get a push notification if you’re near a seller), but as a seller, I might not be always home or available to show an item to buyers. These seller-side logistical issues could be crippling to the success of the app.
Jill Felska of DreamChamps went next, centering her pitch around the importance of job happiness and stressing that “people should find jobs they thrive in, not just survive in.” This was an easy message for the startup crowd to identify with.
DreamChamps connects job seekers to small and medium-sized companies that emphasize company culture and satisfy 12 guidelines that make for a happy and healthy working experience. I like the message, but need more convincing on their competitive advantage, as startups like Hirebrite provide a similar service (though only to students).
EditHuddle (full disclosure: I am currently working with EditHuddle)
Imran Ahmad of Edit Huddle followed with his pitch for a crowd-sourced editing tool for blogs. A button allows blog readers to privately submit feedback to the author, who can then correct errors through seamless integration with blog sites.
One of the things that Imran did well was include a slide with 3 simple ways that audience members could help: sign up for the beta, tell their blogger friends, and follow Edit Huddle on Twitter. This helped us really capitalize on the exposure we got from the pitch.
Dave Chung demoed Weatherist, a website that generates the most probable forecast based on the past accuracy of existing forecasts. It also allows users to submit their own forecasts, which many might be inclined to do after seeing the wild inaccuracy of predictions like Accuweather’s (15 degrees off just in the last week).
Out of all the startups that pitched, this was the product with the most widespread appeal. They just have to show people that weather can be interesting, which they did well at the pitch by visually demonstrating with a graph how Weatherist trumps existing forecasts in accuracy. It’s only a website right now, but I can see a mobile version of the product really taking off.
The last startup to pitch was MentorMob out in full force with about 12 team members present, though only two onstage. MentorMob allows users to create and edit Learning Playlists to teach skills like playing the guitar or brewing beer at home.
Similar to the tack that Restaurant Bucket List took, MentorMob explained how Google and YouTube aren’t optimal ways to learn. By contrast, crowd-curated content strips all the noise out, allowing users to effectively build new skills.
MentorMob has some good traction, and the potential for expansion to developing countries is an appealing one to social entrepreneurs.
What’s so great about Technori Pitch is that it gets such a diverse array of people—500 of them—out from behind their computers and into one room. Even as a new participant in the startup scene, it’s immensely exciting to see how fast entrepreneurship is growing in Chicago.
People are working together, thinking creatively, and building useful and important services. Technori Pitch is the nexus and showcase for much of this activity.
With the explosive growth in the Chicago startup scene, Technori Pitch is well-poised to become a regular home to accomplished entrepreneurs and those on the rise.