This was the 13th Technori Pitch showcase, and we got to see five new startups – BitBend, Evzdrop, Mobile Makers Academy, Mouthee, and Kauzu – join the class of 80+ presenters that have pitched at the event thus far. We had another crowd full of new faces, and also, our first female keynote speaker: Talia Mashiach, CEO of Eved, which is an online meeting and event marketplace. Here is a recap of her speech, as well as some insight on the other presentations:
Just like any entrepreneur, Talia’s business skills developed at a young age. She learned the valuable rules behind piracy after her parents caught her selling burned copies of cassette tapes to friends while turning a profit. She was 10. PirateBay probably took a few pages out of her book. Fast-forward to her college days; this is where Talia started to learn and understand the nuances of event planning. Given her entrepreneurial leanings, Talia was always thinking about ways to expand the band’s operations and capture a larger fan base. Her experience running the band, coupled with what she learned during business school at Loyola, led her to the events industry after graduation.
She quickly began to see a huge opportunity in the meeting and event marketplace. This was a $263 billion industry, and it was being serviced by small suppliers. On top of that, everything was being done inefficiently: sending invoices via Microsoft Word documents, faxing credit card information for payment, and the list goes on. It was a light bulb moment for her.
In 2004, Talia set out to create a local event company called ACCESS. She wanted to experience first-hand the challenges and potential solutions associated with changing an industry that had been the same way for close to eighty years. Great idea – but where would the money come from? She took the leap and mortgaged her house, taking out a $300K+ line of credit. After a while, the company landed a big client and they were all set for their first event. However, that client – surprise, surprise – decided to delay the project. Then they delayed some more. Luckily, the company was smart enough to put that client in its back pocket and began pursuing new business opportunities, soon landing four clients. Before you know it, Talia and her team earned $4 million in revenue during their first year! After three more years, ACCESS had generated over $9 million. An incredible success story.
After talking to a fellow entrepreneur in Chicago, Talia realized that although she had been successful in creating ACCESS from the ground up, she never did what she intended to do: completely change the entire industry.
So, in 2009, she founded Eved, “a web-based marketplace that provides meeting professionals, venues, and suppliers with a more efficient way to interact and transact online.” She created a company that focused purely on technology and how it could solve the problems the industry was facing. After generating five clients (after just having her fifth child, mind you), the business took off. Eved received angel funding and eventually went on to earn $20 million in revenue this year. The company just closed a Series B round of funding, and Talia is gunning for an exit in the next four years.
Talia ended her keynote speech with advice for other entrepreneurs:
- Understand and embrace the “brick walls”. Although heavy, each piece added to the wall is a significant accomplishment and will help you visualize your end goal.
- Believe in yourself.
- Focus on how overcoming current challenges are going to make you better in the long run.
- Learn from people who have done it before you.
- Fund yourself, if possible.
Great advice from Technori’s first female keynote speaker. She’s setting the bar high for future keynotes!
Now, onto the pitches:
BitBend – @bitbend
How many times has your group of friends come up with the great idea, like taking a group trip together? You get all jazzed up and think about what an amazing time the trip will be. Then, a day or two goes by. The excitement fades, people start dropping off, and your friends start backing out. Planning a hypothetical vacation is tough because it is, well, hypothetical. No trip can happen until you (and all of your friends) fully commit to the expenses associated with it all. This is where BitBend comes into play.
Instead of committing to a plane ticket – or a bunch of them – you can identify an opportune time for the trip and get guaranteed pricing and seat availability for your desired flight. This is all done by “bending” the potential option for a small monetary fee. You get the comfort of knowing your choice will still be there in a few days, while you and your friends figure out all the details needed to finally purchase flights. No more booking flights only to cancel a few days later.
BitBend’s technology differs from the likes of platforms like Orbitz and Kayak by serving as an actual trip planner to ensure that customers maintain comfortability with bigger purchasing decisions while keeping their options open. The company set to launch November 1st – check out the site and sign up to become a beta tester!
Evzdrop – @evzdrop
We are all guilty of it: on the train, in restaurants, and even casually walking down the street. That’s right, I am talking about eavesdropping. We do it because we are bored, nosy, or just interested in hearing about what someone else has to say. Think about how many times you’ve been on your favorite social media channel just cruising around to see what everyone else is up to.
Now, what Evzdrop has done is taken that natural human curiosity and created a social platform for eavesdropping on “places” instead of just people.
Imagine that you want to hear the crowd’s reaction just after the National Anthem at the United Center during a Blackhawks game, or check in to see what the word is on that new Sushi joint down the street. Evzdrop gives you the capability to listen to real-time feedback and knowledge on a variety of categories and locations once users “drop” their thoughts.
To make sure contributors are getting the credibility they deserve, Ezvdrop has incorporated ”prop” functionality to reward users who are making a “splash” for their content. Think: street cred.
This is all on the user side, but Evzdrop also provides a lot of value for brands; it helps them understand whether a customer is having a positive or negative experience, which they can then use to either continue certain practices or pivot to ensure that customers are satisfied.
You can download Evzdrop in the App Store. Give them a try and start “dropping” today!
Mobile Makers Academy – @theMobileMakers
Take a look around you right now. It’s a safe bet that there are probably one or two mobile devices within sight. That is because mobile is pretty much taking over the world – and supplies us all with all the cools devices and apps that we love. Ever since the iPhone was initially released, there have been over 30 billion applications downloaded and close to $5 billion paid out to developers. On the Android platform, the numbers are less impressive, but still staggering at 15 billion applications downloaded and $320 million paid out to developers to date. Needless to say, this is a huge market. Any reputable business needs a mobile application to meet the demands of their customers. Now, the big question is, where are all the mobile developers? Well, they are likely already building out others projects.
The Mobile Makers Academy is looking to close the gap between unbalanced supply and demand for mobile developers. It is an intensive 10-week program, built to provide students with hands-on training, workshops, hack-a-thons, and anything to help advance one’s skill-set. Who can do it? Anyone. You are given mentorship from the most talented mobile developers in Chicago, and all you need is a true passion and dedication to hone your craft. Plus, you get a sweet free t-shirt. Score.
Total costs of the program per student are about $8,000, but after subsidies from Vokal Interactive, the program will cost Mobile Makers students around $3,800 total. The first class kicks off on October 1st. So if you want to make apps, become a mentor, or support the cause, get in touch with the Mobile Makers Academy!
Mouthee – @MoutheeApp
Review sites can be useful. Cruise on over to Yelp or Google Places and check out the latest reviews on products, services, or establishments you’re interested in. Read a few posts, and soon enough, you start encountering long rants or simply content that you don’t trust at all. This is the type of experience Mouthee is looking to correct. It provides the simplest way to find recommendations and content that you care about, from the people you actually know and trust.
Their platform goes even further than the standard “places” reviews and focuses on a broader set of categories. Mouthee connects with your social networks to provide you with recommendations for: music, books, food, and more. Mouthee also gamified its service to encourage better (and more entertaining) customer interaction.
You can find the iPhone application in the App Store. Additionally, Mouthee just recently released a beta version of the web based application. Sync up with Mouthee on your smart phone, computer, or tablet and start seeking out recommendations today.
Kauzu – @KauzuInc
Keeping the audience on their toes, Kauzu threw us all a curveball and had users and advocates of their product give a presentation from their point of views. We got to see first hand how people are affected by – and interact with – Kauzu.
Over the past few years, the Chicago start up community has seen huge increases in collaboration, participation, and success. This feeling is what Kauzu is all about. They realized that there are huge challenges and hurdles people must overcome in order to find jobs in their local communities. There has to be a better way to connect local employees and employers through a platform to produce productive, happy, and sustainable collaboration. So, Kauzu synced up with local workforce groups, government agencies, and decision makers to bridge the connection and transparency gap between job seekers and employers.
Keying in on real-time and geographic focus, you can utilize Kauzu’s service through a few different means in order to land your next job: via text, smart phones, computers, and tablets. It doesn’t matter if you have an out-of-date flip phone, the iPhone 5 en route, or the newest tablet on the market. All channels can access Kauzu’s platform to deliver on the organization’s promise of producing productive employees through community outreach. It is not a job site, but rather, a channel to match talent with the best available job options in town. Kauzu just launched its first products, so you can start participating today!
Photography: Dan Kelleghan