10 Startups Launch in Chicago at Excelerate Labs

August 31, 2010

11:19 pm

Excelerate Labs, Chicago’s new tech startup incubator, debuted their first group of graduates today. Modeled after Brad Feld’s and David Cohen’s incubator, TechStars, the Chicago management team spent time with the Colorado group to ensure they had the right approach and then Sam Yagan,  Kapil Chaudhary, Troy Henikoff and Nick Rosa were off and running, creating their own program. From a pool of 350 applicants, they selected and worked with 10 early stage companies throughout the summer and with the help of many investors, mentors and a small team of organizers, the companies honed their business ideas, polished their pitches and presented their cases in front of a packed House of Blues audience, hoping to secure additional funding to make it to the next level. Here’s an overview of what we saw during today’s inaugural Excelerate Labs Demo Day.

Desiree Vargas of GiveForward

Desiree Vargas of GiveForward

GiveForward provides easy to use tools so anyone can create personal fundraising campaigns for someone in need. Many successful campaigns were highlighted as the site has already helped people raise over $2 million. Anyone can use the site for fundraising, so they are not limited to medical-related causes, but their distribution plan is to connect with patient advisers and nurses so they can advise hospital patients by word of mouth. Desiree Vargas was an impassioned founder and presenter and spelled out a focused path forward, seeking $400K for growth and marketing to hospitals across the country.

Sue Khim of Edulender

Sue Khim of edulender

A simple and comprehensive comparison engine for private student loans. Founder Sue Khim presented a case for how convoluted and complex (and sometimes corrupt) the student loan process has become. edulender wants to become the number one trusted source for finding loans by providing unbias information – not ranking loans based on payments from lenders. The tool spells out rates, terms and fees to bring transparency to the space. Lenders can pay to be sponsored results (but it is clearly marked) and edulender also takes a cut of transactions. Their path forward is to get Financial Aid Officers across the country to drive students to the site. They are raising $600K with a goal to reach 500 schools across the country this year.

Joshua Hernandez of TapMe

Joshua Hernandez of TapMe!

An in-game, in-context advertising network that leverages game mechanics and social graph to scale. TapMe! is out to create icomplishments – the gamification of advertising and connecting games with brands in a more meaningful way. For example, they make it easy for brands to buy in-game, integrated advertising so the user never has to leave their game and go out of context. The Founder and CEO, Josh Hernandez, and team are looking to raise $1.5 million.

Collin Wallace of FanGo

Collin Wallace of fango

A mobile ordering platform for stadiums and arenas. Fango looks to own the mobile user activity for every person who enters a stadium while they are there. Founder and CEO Collin Wallace shared that it costs the average facility $1.2 million dollars a year in lost concession revenue because people either bail out from long lines or don’t even bother to leave their seats. Fango drives orders that are twice as large as traditional orders and brings them twice as fast (delivering to seats or holding at counter for pickup). They take a piece of every transaction, have built-in advertising real estate, and collect and sell metrics behind the scenes – they are also planning to build in social interactions which will drive customer engagement. Their first client was the University of Kentucky which helped them prove their ability to double the average order size, and have since acquired some key strategic partners that will help their growth. Looking to raise $1.5 million to last the next 18 months (already have $750K committed).

MathZee at Excelerate Labs Demo Day 2010

Namit Yadav of MathZee at Excelerate Labs Demo Day 2010

Fun math games backed by real curriculum and analytics. The goal of MathZee is to create fun and innovative games to really teach kids math. Founder Namit Yadav demonstrated some Google search results for “fun math games” online and showed just how bad the options were. In MathZee, kids do not learn math skills by answering random math questions in a vacuum. Instead, they are immersed in fun situations and games, with gorgeous graphics, where they can apply math naturally. Premium skill assessments for the parents ($7.95 per month) are their primary revenue stream. They also offer widgets for parents to show off how well their child is doing via social networks, as well as reports to share with teachers. School teachers will be a target market for word of mouth marketing. MathZee is available on the Web as well as iPhone and iPad. Their first game, Piggy Math, is for sale in the iTunes store for $3.99. Namit and team are seeking $350,000 for faster development, outreach and marketing.

Andrea Williamson of Noblivity

Andrea Williamson of noblivity

An innovative marketplace for specialty retailers connecting stores with small brands and each other.  Specialty stores and boutiques are always on the hunt for unique products from small, specialty manufacturers, but there’s no easy way for stores to discover these small brands – in fact, it’s time consuming and costly. Noblivity aims to remove the pain from this process by creating a marketplace where buyers and sellers can easily discover each other and complete their transactions, providing value-ads in the process and taking a small piece of each transaction. The eighty-eight thousand apparel and accessory shops in the US spend billions of dollars on over thirty million products a year, giving Noblivity a nice, and growing, market opportunity. Andrea Williamson and her team are raising $750K to build out the team and infrastructure.

Nick Yecke of PVPower Launches SolarBear

Nick Yecke of PVPower Launches SolarBear

Simplifes solar power project planning for the guys who install it. The PVPower product, Solar Bear, which will be released in September, is a web application that takes information from the contractor and turns it into a compelling, professional proposal for their customers. It’s free to use, and when jobs are closed, PVPower sells the products to the contractor for use, pulling in revenue from an estimated 35% of all sold jobs. Their polar bear mascot supported the team’s COO, Nick Yecke as he presented on the big stage. They are raising $750K.

Diane Melville of ScholarsPro

Diane Melville of ScholarPro

The first ever common application for scholarships. 70% of students don’t apply for scholarships because of the tedious process yet $650 million dollars of scholarship money goes unrewarded each year while the need increases. ScholarPro seeks to simplify this process by allowing students to fill out one application form and submit all necessary documents just once – because the overlap in required information from various scholarships is so high. The fee is $25 per year and they are targeting the 35 million students across the US. Diane Melville, founder and CEO, and her team are building their network of schools and scholarship providers and are seeking $1 million to build the team and the technology.

Joe Joblanski of WeGather

Joe Joblanski of WeGather

All about modernizing donations, volunteering and communications for faith based communities. With 40% of Americans donating 104 billion dollars to their churches and religious organizations, WeGather seeks to revolutionize how those transactions take place. These organizations currently have no online organizing methods, thus missing out on additional opportunities. WeGather allows for online pledges with automated weekly transfers and recognizes and rewards members. The upside could be up to $25 billion in additional annual giving. Secondarily, they aim to streamline the volunteer process, member directories of the church, community calendars, photo sharing, document management and more. Churches will pay annual subscriptions and specific transfer fees for using the service. WeGather will leverage the large, existing sales and support organizations as well as online advertising. Joe Jablonski and his team are raising $400K to grow the team and take them to profitability in the next 18 months.

Sean Harper of FeeFighters (Formerly TransFS)

Sean Harper of FeeFighters (Formerly TransFS)

A tool for comparison shopping credit card processors. Previously known as TransFS, FeeFighters provides a tool for small business owners to find the best deal on credit card processors, potentially saving the small business industry up to 6 billion dollars annually. Credit card processors often charge lots of additional fees in the small print, so FeeFighters aims to bring transparency to the process, making it as easy to compare processors as airline ticket prices on Kayak or loans on LendingTree. Customers enter their information and then competitive bids come in with all the financial information calculated and spelled out by FeeFighters. Small businesses account for 90% of processor’s revenues, so the processors pay the small percentage to FeeFighters. So far, 2000 customers and 11 card processors are on board, with more on the way – and the team plans to extend to other sectors. Sean Harper and his team are raising $1.5 million and have already raised a significant portion.

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Jen Consalvo is the Cofounder and COO of Tech.Co. She previously worked in product development for almost 13 years at AOL for audiences of millions. Follow her on Twitter at: @noreaster.

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