Meal-making appliance and campaign info website win Booth venture challenges

The NVC’s winner, Maestro, is an appliance that is supposed to cook meals quickly and efficiently.

By Zeke Gillman

Winners of Chicago Booth’s Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Competition (NVC) and its offshoot, the John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC), were announced this week. The winner of the NVC was Maestro, a countertop cooking appliance, while the election software platform called BallotReady won the SNVC. The results came out after day-long presentations as part of the competitions’ processes, which the SNVC held on May 26, while the NVC held it on May 28.

Both of these competitions are renowned for helping develop venture capitalist projects, and the NVC ranked fourth in best competitions for launching U.S. start-ups by The Seed Accelerator Rankings Project. The competitions provide a supportive route for enterprising students. Part of the requirements for the competitions is that every team must have a UChicago student. Students thus have the opportunity to set in motion their entrepreneurial ideas by using the resources the competitions provide.

The NVC and SNVC have already supported a number of now-prominent businesses and organizations. Some of the more familiar ones include GrubHub, Inc., a mobile and online food ordering company that connects customers to different takeout restaurants in the surrounding area; Bump Technologies, an iPhone and Android application that allows for certain information to flow from one smartphone to another by means of bumping the phones together; and LuminAid, an organization that develops cost-effective and efficient solar-rechargeable lighting products so that light can be used by low-income communities.

This year, the winner of the NVC was Maestro, a cooking appliance. According to its website, the Maestro can cook a “healthy, complete meal” by roasting, boiling, and steaming meats, vegetables, and grains inserted into the appliance in custom pods.

Though all the finalists in the NVC will share in $250,000 (in addition to $250,000 worth of office space and professional services) from the program’s sponsors, Maestro won $50,000 from the NVC along with $20,000 from the Pritzker Group Venture Capital. The runners-up, ExplORer, a workflow management tool that organizes tools and tasks for surgeons, and NETenergy, a thermal energy storage company, each received $30,000 from the NVC.

This year’s winner of SNVC, BallotReady, is an online platform that allows users to be notified of elections in their area and to be more informed before they enter the ballot. As their website states, they “envision a future in which voters are informed and engaged with their local elected officials, in which candidates for local office know that their activities and positions will be held to a high standard, and where municipalities and local policies are improved as a result.” BallotReady, which has David Axelrod, head of the Institute of Politics, on its advisory board, was awarded $30,000 of the $50,000 total prize for the SNVC.

The other $20,000 was awarded to the runner-up, Arev, an organization that tries to improve economic growth in Armenia through marketing Armenian goods in the United States.