Entrepreneurs win $20K for startup that helps autistic children
It wasn't enough for DePaul entrepreneurs to bring strong moneymaking ideas to this year's Coleman Entrepreneurship Center pitch competition. Instead, the newly focused Purpose Pitch asked entrepreneurs to explain why their work mattered.
Some 125 teams applied, and the final four startups competed with five-minute presentations on May 11 at startup incubator 1871. Each team had at least one member from the DePaul community.
Judges named EarlyVention "Most Purposeful Startup in Chicago" for its work developing educational materials for autistic children. EarlyVention founders Elizabeth Ames, a DePaul MBA graduate, and her sister Melissa Ames won a $20,000 grand prize to expand their business.
"EarlyVention's focus on helping the autistic community, as well as their passion, really set them apart," says Bruce Leech, executive director of the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center. "They had some success already, are generating revenue and really want to make a difference in the lives of their customers."
About 250 people attended the event, including DePaul students, alumni and members of the 1871 community. The other winners included second-place PraxiCut, a startup that develops synthetic organs to train surgeons. Third place went to the Springboard Theater Company, a venture that provides theatre programs to children's organizations and makes theatre accessible to a wider community. Second Shift, a startup that creates co-working spaces in local communities around Chicago, took fourth place.
The theme of the Purpose Pitch was highly successful because it taps into DePaul's spirit of giving back, says Leech. Entrepreneurial skills are applicable across disciplines - from education to health and the arts - and the final four contenders for the competition illustrate that, he says.
"It is critical in a university setting to help our students think creatively and entrepreneurially, whether they open their own business or freelance for someone else," Leech said. "About 60 percent of current college students will in fact work for themselves at some point in their career so we want to make sure they have an entrepreneurial experience while at DePaul."
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