This year, we were so excited to gather an in-person audience to celebrate innovation and entrepreneurship at Northwestern. VentureCat 2022 was held on May 25, 2022 and featured the best and brightest Northwestern student-founded ventures competing across five industry tracks for a non-dilutive prize pool of more than $325,000! While we were busy watching pitches live, we were also thrilled to welcome a virtual audience to join us via livestream.
This was an exciting year at Northwestern, as we began to see operations return to being completely in-person, including VentureCat’s pitch prep program and Semifinals. Despite a challenging few years, it’s clear that the innovative and quick-to-pivot minds of Northwestern students were still hard at work, developing ideas and solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems, including wildfire detection and prevention, an easier way for businesses to be carbon neutral, and even a circular system for food waste to become high quality nutrition for animals. To get a peek at some of the best pitches of the day, you can watch the entire VentureCat 2022 Public Showcase Livestream below.
VentureCat continues to be a key milestone in the journeys of so many Northwestern founded companies, offering key resources like networking opportunities and of course, funding. 2021 third place winner, springrose, founded by Nicole Cuervo, Kellogg ’22, is excited to have her first prototypes and is looking forward to launching this fall. Second place winner, Equal Opportunity Book Box, led by Jacob Jordan, SESP ’20 + SPS ’21, has been featured in Time, signed an exclusive deal with Meta for their employee holiday program, and won the Social Innovator Award at the Chicago Innovations Awards! Finally, first place winner, Jaime Tabachnik, Kellogg ’22, co-founder of Solvento, has grown his team from five to 27 people and raised a $1.5M pre-seed round!
This year, we received more than 50 applications for VentureCat from across Northwestern. Of those, 25 semifinalist startup teams were selected representing many schools including the Kellogg School of Management, the School of Communication, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences,the McCormick School of Engineering, the Medill School of Journalism, the Feinberg School of Medicine, and the Pritzker School of Law. We continue to be excited about students from so many disciplines making strides in entrepreneurship!
During the pitch prep program preceding VentureCat Semifinals, each team met with multiple pitch coaches and received professional graphic design services to perfect their decks. Additionally, students were offered advisors that they could regularly connect with for inspiration and guidance. You can learn more about all of our semifinalists here.
This year, VentureCat again distributed more than $325,000 in non-dilutive capital to competing student ventures thanks to generous sponsorship and donor contributions. Thank you to the Levy Institute and to Lanny and Sharon Martin for generous gifts this year. We thank Exelon for joining us again as a sponsor for our Energy & Sustainability Track.
In collaboration with the Kellogg School of Management, the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center, and The Garage, VentureCat 2022 was possible thanks to the contributions of volunteer pitch coaches, track advisors, and judges. You can learn more about all of the teams, track advisors, and judges in our online program here.
Semifinals were held in a closed door format at the Kellogg Global Hub on the morning of May 25. Each track was judged with various selected experts in corresponding fields. First and second place teams in each track were selected based on their pitch and a Q&A session and moved to a closed finals round. The first place winner of each track received a prize of $9,000 and the second place winner in each track received $6,000.
Semifinals were held privately prior to the Public Showcase via Zoom with panels of experts. First and second place winners in each track were selected, and the first place winner of each track in addition to one wildcard team chosen from second place teams, moved to a closed finals round. This year the first place winner of each track won a $9,000 prize and second place teams received $6,000.
All 25 semifinalist teams also received a $1,000 award immediately after being selected in April.
Business Products & Services
First Place: Xenah Developers
One Liner: Xenah Developers provides pre-seed startups with technical expertise and services while offering our student developers opportunities to excel in their field.
Students: Niraj Shah, McCormick ’23; William Xenakis, McCormick ’23; Matt Beretta, Weinberg ’23; Herry Lenz, Weinberg ’23
Second Place: Pyaari Weddings
One Liner: Pyaariweddings.co is a South Asian wedding directory where couples can shop for wedding vendors based on pricing, reviews, and more; and check out with a customized, DIY, a-la-carte wedding plan.
Students: Raj Kamaria Kellogg ’22
Consumer Products & Services
First Place: Beni
One Liner: The Beni browser extension finds the best secondhand swaps while you shop your favorite brands. It’s like Honey meets Expedia for recommerce.
Students: Sarah Pinner, Kellogg (MMM) ’23; Kate Sanner, Kellogg ’22; Sarah Leonard, Kellogg ’23; Sarah Rogers, Kellogg ’23; Hunter Zhang, Northwestern ’23; Jacqueline Hong, Kellogg ’22; Danielle Ma, Kellogg ’22; Ashkaan Khatakhotan, Kellogg ’22; Catherine Sullivan, Kellogg ’23
Second Place: Cue the Curves
One Liner: Cue the Curves is an app that helps plus-size women find clothing that fits their size and style.
Students: Charlotte Oxnam, McCormick ’23
Energy & Sustainability
First Place: InfernoGuard
One Liner: InfernoGuard provides prompt wildfire detection and notification to large-scale landowners.
Students: Kevin Kaspar, McCormick 24
Second Place: CarbonGraph
One Liner: CarbonGraph is SaaS that automates the process of carbon footprinting so that companies can communicate sustainable advantages and capture the ROI of being more carbon neutral.
Students: Nicola Craig, Kellogg ’22
Life Sciences & Medical Innovations
First Place: Nspire
One Liner: Nspire creates novel respiratory devices to improve patient health while decreasing healthcare costs.
Students: Wadsworth Williams, Feinberg ’22; Olga Cuznetova, Kellogg ’22; David Kohan-Ghadosh, Pritzker ’23; Jacob Kurian, McCormick ’22
Second Place: Zuri Fertility
One Liner: Zuri is a personal, digital fertility app empowering patients with the knowledge, confidence, and access needed to succeed in their fertility journey.
Students: Giuliana Zaccardelli, Feinberg/Kellogg ’22 Blair Matthews Pritzker ’22,
Michael Lichtenstein, McCormick ’21
Social Impact & Nonprofit
First Place: GreenGrahi
One Liner: GreenGrahi is a circular economy company engaged in turning food waste from food processing companies into high quality and sustainable protein, fat, and fertilizer for animal and plant nutrition.
Students: Siddharth Sharma, Kellogg ’22
Second Place: Renota
One Liner: Renota drives students towards a path of academic success and helps teachers manage their workload; our AI lets math teachers efficiently review student work and provide high-quality feedback.
Students: Jake Erichson, Kellogg ‘23
The VentureCat 2022 wildcard pick was: Zuri Fertility
Each finalist team and the selected wildcat team pitched in a closed session with our impressive panel of finalist judges, who kindly donated their time and expertise to today’s events. This year, we welcomed Greg Barnes, Partner at Hyde Park Venture Partners; Melanie Kahn, Medill ’99, Founder + CEO of Poppilu; Bailey Moore, Co-founder & Managing Director of Wintrust Ventures; Christina Rohr, Managing Director at S2G Ventures;
Kevin Willer, Partner at Chicago Ventures; and Neal Sales-Griffin, SESP ’09, Managing Director for Techstars Chicago. Then, these six teams prepped to pitch live to an in-person audience!
The VentureCat Public Showcase was hosted by Mike Raab, interim executive director of The Garage at Northwestern, and Hayes Ferguson, director of the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Following the pitches, we asked the audience to vote live for their favorite. Hundreds of text votes were tallied for the Audience Favorite Prize of $2,000! The winner is: Zuri Fertility!
Third place, and an additional $25,000 was awarded to: Zuri Fertility!
Second place, and $50,000, went to: Beni!
First place, and the grand prize of $150,000 was awarded to: InfernoGuard!
Congratulations to ALL of the VentureCat participants – finalists, semifinalists, and winners. We can’t wait to see what you do next!