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Budding Entrepreneurs at U. of C. Pitch Investors on Sake, Socks

By Sam Cholke | August 15, 2013 9:01am
 Ten groups of entrepreneurs from the Univeristy of Chicago pitched investors on their ideas for new companies.
University of Chicago Startups
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RIVER NORTH — In a display of entrepreneurial husbandry, the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago loosed 10 new startups on a panel of investors Wednesday.

Fledgling companies were mentored over the summer as they hammered out plans for vintage campus gear, girlie drinks and other services.

Wednesday was their final chance to make a 10-minute pitch to investors at the Gleacher Center, 450 N. Cityfront Plaza Drive, before being cast out from under the wing of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“Sitting is essentially killing you,” said Arnav Dalmia, an economics major at the U. of C. whose team was pitching an under-desk exercise machine.

FunPower presented a prototype of a small elliptical exerciser that can sync to a phone to record calories burned, and was looking for help finding manufacturers to bring the product to market for under $150.

“I would spend good parts of my day sitting at my desk, and I kept thinking, ‘This can’t be good and can’t be good for my health,” said Louis Goldman, the group’s mentor and a partner at Navigator Law Group.

FunPower was searching for expertise, but others were looking for cash.

Social Enjoyments, a liquor manufacturer targeting young women who want a low-calorie cocktail, was looking for $25,000 in seed money to get its sake-based drink in Binny’s Beverage Depots by November.

“I actually quit my job at Nestle three days before the Accelerator Program began,” said Leah Caplanis, who is working with Izze Beverage Company’s product developer Ray Klimovitz to nail down flavors for the sparkling low-alcohol drink called Social Enjoyments.

Caplanis and the other teams in the Accelerator Program got free office space, a small chunk of startup capital and help from mentors and faculty to get their companies off the ground. But in 10 weeks, one company was already turning a profit.

Vintage Campus already has netted $30,000 in sales from its late 19th century-inspired campus gear.

Tiffany Young, an English major at the university, and Chris Stavitsky, an anthropology major, have already sold more than 4,500 pairs of socks to alumni with variations of the U. of C. logo.

The Accelerator Program participants have a tendency to hang around, and most of last year’s company’s are still going.

ZipFit Denim opened a new location in Old Orchard Mall in Skokie on Wednesday, its third retail location since pitching the idea at the Booth School of Business last year. The store matches men with the best pants based on their measurements and then offers free tailoring to further refine the fit.

“Now I don’t even try them on. I just say I want brown corduroys, and they’re the best corduroys I’ve ever gotten,” said business adviser Josh Lowitz, who invested in ZipFit and mentored Vintage Campus this year.

Applications for next summer’s Accelerator Program will go out this fall, and the program is open to all U. of C. students. Teams can have nonuniversity members.