Another sold out crowd for the 14th Technori Pitch! As always, we got to hear from five local startups pitch, along with a great keynote speech from Chicago entrepreneur Orlando Saez.
Orlando started off with a zinger, making reference to our “Windy City” thanks to Hurricane Sandy. Apparently, he’s always been a clown, but we will get to that later. We learned that Orlando wasn’t exactly turning heads in school with his grades. Maybe he just wasn’t being challenged, Einstein style. However, he rocked the ACT, especially the mathematics portion. After meeting with the high school counselor, she advised him to check out trade schools because she didn’t think he had the work ethic or drive to succeed in a traditional university setting.
This just lit a fire underneath him, and was one of the experiences that drove him toward his future successes. Orlando ventured off to college as a computer engineering major, and if you were at the event, we got to see a great photo of him sleeping, surrounded by outdated computer equipment: floppy disk, monitors the size of compact cars, etc…
After a while, he started to get a little bored and that sparked a trip to Venice, Florida. Why go to Venice? Clown school of course! It was the mid 80s and it sounded really fun, so why not? It was actually an experience that had a big impact on his life. Orlando talked about how learning to be a “performer” really helped round off his amazing skill set.
Upon graduation, he moved out to one of Chicago’s finest suburbs, Naperville. Got a sweet gig with AT&T making a whopping $30K starting salary. He was feeling pretty good about himself at that time and after a while took another comfortable job working at Motorola. This is where we started to learn about his philosophies on risk: “the more experiences you have and people you meet, the greater your propensity for risk.”
Up until this point in his life, he built out a big enough safety net where he felt comfortable taking the leap to work at an internet service provider startup, where he was essentially “babysitting three kids.” Not actually kids, but young kids with big ideas. Their ISP company, XNet Information Systems, eventually sold for millions of dollars and is now a publicly traded company. After the first taste of entrepreneurial success, Orlando went on to do a lot of impressive work:
Ahead of the curve in terms of Wi-Fi service offerings, Orlando spearheaded the efforts of engaging a partnership with the government to install Wi-Fi access in major airports across the US, which eventually spread to non-airport locations. The company offered to take on all the risk and costs associated with the venture, while guaranteeing the government a consistent and streamlined source of revenue. Win, win (and still, it took two years to sell the government on the idea). Within four years, they were the largest provider of Wi-Fi on the market and the company is now publicly traded. Boingo recently won Best Wi-Fi Service in 2011 from Global Traveler Awards and Best iPhone/iPod Travel App in 20102 from About.com
State of Illinois
A little while after Boingo, Orlando was the Deputy Director for the Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Technology sector of the State of Illinois. He helped administer – as well as recruit board members and mobilize the working agenda for – the Illinois Innovation Council, which gave private sector decision makers the ability to meet with government officials and create an environment to implement policies and strategies aimed at growing the economy and providing jobs for the people of Illinois. He was also the head of a $20M venture fund (part of the $400M he managed across many programs), some of which involved being the public face behind the efforts of 1871 – one of Chicago’s premier co-working spaces that is fostering the growth of startups.
Back to his entrepreneurial roots, Orlando recently became the COO of CityScan, which “provides municipalities with street level intelligence that is impossible to compile naturally or through human observation.” This data allows CityScan to provide actionable recommendations to municipalities spanning a wide range of areas, including safety and code enforcement.
The company has partnered with Nokia; they recently acquired Chicago’s Navteq, which has extremely large data sets of location based information spanning the country. CityScan has raised $1.2M in funding and is a member of Chicago’s 1871 work space.
It was great to hear from one of Chicago’s own – someone not a lot of people know about, but has accomplished a tremendous amount for – and is one of the stars of – the growing tech community.
Now, onto the pitches!
BirdFeud – www.birdfeud.com
Getting consumers to engage with brands is tough. 95% of the people who ‘Like’ a company on Facebook never go back to that company’s page. Sure, it is great to pump up the credibility of your page, but that isn’t creating a sustainable campaign to connect with users. Brands need continuous and relevant engagement.
BirdFeud has created a social discussion platform to connect brands and users on topics to incentivize participation, word of mouth, and utilization of current social media tools. Their platform can be summarized in three different aspects – it’s fun, social, and controls conversations. Simply pose a question or debate, and users can engage via their Twitter accounts to send out tweets, choosing a side and a quick opinion.
For example, BirdFeud created a campaign for the largest “Fifty Shades of Grey” fan page to ask people which actors would be the best to play the characters in a potential movie. The response was huge, resulting in one of the most successful social campaigns that fan page ever launched.
Need help driving traffic to your site? Settling an argument? Working on your branding? Get in touch with the guys over at BirdFeud: it’s fun, social, and lets you control the conversation.
Matchist – www.matchist.com
Matchist started when one of the co-founders had the idea of creating a platform to make buying engagement rings social and fun. However, she had a really hard time finding the technical talent to build out the product. Hop on oDesk? Check out Elance? Sure, this will net some results, but they are usually overwhelming and leave you with so many options that it’s hard to tell which freelancers are the most talented and qualified.
This is a typical problem for non-technical entrepreneurs. You have a great idea, but lack the technical talent to bring the idea to life. Enter: Matchist – a platform that connects people with cool ideas to developers that can take that idea and build out a solution. How does it work?
- Learn – The crew over at Matchist will learn as much as they can about your project to identify your specific needs.
- Match – Upon diagnosing the need for a project, they match you up with the top three freelance developers available to identify the best fit.
- Build – You pick your developer and you’re off to the races!
To minimize risk for all parties, Matchist handles the entire payment system to ensure developers are getting their money, and the entrepreneurs are getting a finalized product they are satisfied with. If you’ve been procrastinating on a great idea because you’re not a developer, get in touch with the crew over at Matchist.
Parsecco – www.parsec.co
The modern workplace is filled with a lot of independent workers: freelance developers, designers, writers, consultants, and the list goes on. While working various jobs and completing different projects, we build out our network and develop strong relationships. It would be ideal to leverage those networks and have the ability to describe in detail what role you played while working with others.
Parsecco “helps you do what you love with people you trust.” Their collaboration tool allows you to put your work into context, stay connected with others, and get hired.
You can create a profile on their site and begin to articulate the specific projects you’ve been a part of, but most importantly, showcase your personal accomplishments on those projects and highlight your skill-set. Also, you can make sure to shout out to the other people you’ve worked with in the past and elevate their credibility, and vice versa. After building out a complete profile showcasing why you are awesome and referencing people who can vouch for you, companies are able to identify ideal fits for their open roles.
Parsecco is looking to change the “gig economy” and is facilitating the interaction between individuals and industries in the creative space. Their platform is currently in private beta, but you can request an invite today.
Mirrorgram – www.mirrorgram.com
We all like wacky and fun applications for our phones. They give us something to do – probably when we should be doing other, more important things. Instagram has taught us that photo rendering can be quite the lucrative business, with a nice little buyout you might’ve heard about.
Mirrorgram has taken the concept of creating an application that is fun, addictive, and easy to use, and created an iPhone app that is already making huge noise. The app allows you to simply take a photo and create stunning mirrored images. Want to see what your dog looks like with one eye in the middle of his head? Mess with the look of the Chicago Skyline? Make nature look a little trippy? Mirrorgram lets you do just that.
Shortly after submitting their app for review, Mirrorgram got a call from Apple letting them know that it was going to be a “Featured App” in the store. Very quickly, it rose through the ranks and became the #1 app in the “New and Noteworthy” section. They had over 200K downloads within a two-week span!
Download it for yourself for free and see what all the noise is about. Also, the guys at Mirrorgram have created a specific site for Chicago users to share their images at chicago.mirrorgram.com – spread the word via Twitter using the hashtag #mirrorgramchi.
Stock Mfg. Co. – www.stockmfgco.com
We live in a global economy where goods and services are purchased and delivered from all over the world. However, a majority of us are proud to support and grow businesses in our own country. This is extremely difficult in the world of clothes manufacturing and distribution, where over 98% of clothing is manufactured overseas. Stock Mfg. Co. is solving this problem by creating and manufacturing products for conscious-minded consumers looking to support local efforts.
They have a 19,000-square-foot warehouse in Chicago that historically manufactured “mil-spec” quality clothing, which is a standardization process created by the government to ensure quality requirements for purchased materials. However, they are taking some of that space and have created an ecommerce platform that harnesses the creativity of designers and demand of consumers for quality and affordable clothing.
They offer their own brand name items, and are also teaming up with outside talent to create different product offerings. Here is how it works:
- A design is submitted for review.
- Consumers decide whether or not that design should be produced by pledging in a pre-sale offering to purchase that product.
- If enough consumers pledge to buy, the product is manufactured.
- The item is shipped directly to you, free shipping and returns. Completely hassle-free.
Their platform allows designers to side-step all the red tape associated with getting their ideas mass produced, and allows consumers to buy high quality products for less by removing all of the retail markups. In the end, everybody wins.
Hope everyone enjoyed the recap (and Pitch, if you were there)! Make sure to visit us next month for the last Technori Pitch of the year.
Also, make sure to check out Technori’s Starter Series event ‘Beyond the Ping Pong Table’ on December 6th – you can learn more about it here.