Northwestern startups pitch ideas to Evanston businesses


Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Robert Yohanan, CEO of Evanston-based First Bank & Trust, opens the NU Startup Showcase. The event was held at the Hilton Orrington Wednesday afternoon.

Kelly Gonsalves, Reporter

Northwestern entrepreneurs Wednesday evening pitched their business ideas to Evanston professionals at the city’s first Northwestern University Startup Showcase.

About 80 Evanston business executives crowded into a conference room at the Hilton Orrington Hotel to learn about and offer advice to five NU startups. Evanston’s Economic Development Division and Evanston Inventure, a nonprofit organization concerned with the city’s economic growth, hosted the event to encourage connections between NU and the city.

“We’ve got a significant ecosystem up here of entrepreneurs based on the activity at the university,” said Paul Zalmezak, Evanston’s senior economic development coordinator. “That stuff is going on on campus every day, and yet … our city doesn’t really know that. So, we wanted to shine some light on that activity.”

Each startup gave a five-minute presentation of its project, followed by a five-minute question-and-answer period, in which the audience challenged the groups to think critically about their business models and gave suggestions for improvement. A networking reception followed.

The startups included Chisel and SwipeSense, both of which have already launched their products, as well as three groups that are still developing their plans: MyChild, Fall Proof and Closet. The latter two projects started just four days prior to the event at Northwestern’s Startup Weekend.

“The Evanston community is really supportive of businesses that are based here,” said Yuri Malina (Weinberg ’11), SwipeSense chief operations officer. “I don’t think it could have gone better.”

SwipeSense, a hand hygiene platform for health care professionals aimed at curbing hospital-acquired infections, started in Evanston two years ago and was a finalist in the Wall Street Journal’s Startup of the Year competition. Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Rush University Medical Center are currently testing  SwipeSense. The startup has also just signed contracts with 13 other hospitals around the nation to begin using the product.

“We want these new innovative businesses to stay in Evanston. It adds a lot of vitality to the community, it creates jobs, it creates more small businesses,” said Evanston Lofts owner Mary McAuley, who attended the event. “If there is support in infrastructure for the emerging entrepreneurs, they will stay here, and that’s good for everybody.”

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who also attended the showcase, has been vocal about keeping NU business talent in the city. She told The Daily last month the issue is an area in which town-gown relations could still improve.

Zalmezak said the Economic Development Division hopes to host  similar events to continue fostering city-university connections. He plans to target more Evanston investors and CEOs to help support the NU startups.

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Twitter: @kellyagonsalves