By Lauren Kaufman, 1871 Intern
On April 2, companies from Google’s North America Tech Hub Network competed for a chance to win the first ever Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Hub Demo Day. Ten startups, including 1871 members WeDeliver (see video below at 43:11) and MarkITx (see video below at 57:42), pitched their products to a room full of venture capitalists, tech hub community leaders, and three judges, Google Ventures Partner MG Siegler, SoftTech VC Principal Stephanie Palmeri, and AOL Co-founder and Revolution Ventures Partner Steve Case.
The Demo Day, broadcast live via YouTube, marked the first organized pitch competition with startups from Google’s seven Tech Hubs across the United States and Canada. WeDeliver, an online tracking and local delivery service, and MarkITx, an online exchange for buying and selling IT hardware, were joined on stage by companies from Minneapolis, Durham, Detroit, Nashville, Denver, and Waterloo. “Of course we’re thrilled to represent Chicago,” said MarkITx CEO, Frank Muscarello. “And for all of these companies to come from places outside the [Silicon] Valley is encouraging—it shows that promising startups can crop up all over the U.S.” WeDeliver CEO, Jimmy Odom, agreed, saying, “It was different and a big encouragement to see that technology companies and entrepreneurs are building outside of Silicon Valley.”
Each startup had five minutes to convince the judges of their company’s value to the marketplace, and Muscarello and Odom were not taking chances. Both Muscarello and Odom recognize that the Google Demo Day, as Odom put it, was “actually about being together as the top companies in your space and in your region and then being exposed to additional capital that was outside of your market,” but Muscarello also noted there was a “healthy air of competition.” “Leaders from all of the respective co-working spaces were there, cheering on their teams and explaining why their team was the best,” remembered Muscarello. “We’re a competitive team by nature so naturally we were sizing up the competition and asking ourselves which companies were standouts and which were clear winners.”
While Muscarello and Odom were by no means new to pitching their companies, they took the job of representing 1871 and Chicago at Google Demo Day seriously, especially after receiving personal phone calls from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “I get a call from the mayor and he says, ‘Hey we’re really proud of you and MarkITx and how you’re representing Chicago,’” Muscarello recounted. Odom’s preparation up to Demo Day consisted of trying to streamline WeDeliver’s story and message into his five-minute pitch. “We’ve pitched WeDeliver at a lot of events, and I think we’ve won pretty much all of the competitions we’ve participated in, but those were pretty much off of improv,” said Odom. “It was not until the Google event that we were able to take all of that messaging and finally distill it into one, concise pitch, and that was truly thanks to the mentorship that we received from 1871, the committee that helped vote for all of the startups, and primarily to Troy Henikoff at TechStars Chicago.”
Participating companies not only enjoyed meeting entrepreneurs and leaders from other startup communities, but also benefitted from increased visibility to high-profile venture capitalists. Muscarello was excited about the exposure but also understood, “It’s all relative. One thing I did hear—and I felt like this was something we take for granted in Chicago—is that because we’re such a big market, it’s easier for us to raise capital than it is for many of the companies in smaller startup communities. Chicago is definitely stepping it up, and I think we’re seeing momentum build based on the types of exits that are happening and certainly how we’re coming together as a community.”
Though Windsor Circle, American Underground member in Durham, NC, took home the top prize, the nine other startups would not go home empty-handed. In a surprise announcement, Steve Case pledged to invest $100,000 or more in each of the ten competing companies. Odom said of Case’s pledge, “ It’s massive. In large part he was one of the people that brought everyone online. I mean, no pun intended, he brought America online. In terms of him as an investor, clearly he’s an additional big investor from a region that we had not tapped into who shone a light on these companies, including us, that were just not in that sphere.” To Muscarello and MarkITx, Case’s pledge is not about “the money, it’s about the network. You now have somebody on your team who has signaled to everyone else that he believes in you so much so that he’s going to put his money where his mouth is, and you would hope that that’s going to lead to other things.” The pledge will allow both 1871 members to leverage Case’s network in attracting more venture capital and do more of what makes their companies great.
While MarkITx and WeDeliver did not take home the top prize, both CEOs felt they emerged from Google Demo Day with greater visibility, opportunities to build their networks, and pride for their companies and Chicago. MarkITx’s and WeDeliver’s participation “shows the rest of the world that there is some great innovation coming out of Chicago in particular,” said Muscarello proudly. All said and done, this particular Tech Hub is pretty proud too.
Read more about Google for Entrepreneurs here: http://www.google.com/entrepreneurs/
Learn more about MarkITx here: https://www.markitx.com/
Learn more about WeDeliver here: https://www.wedeliver.us/