This month Built in Chicago announced they hit 70,000 individual monthly users to their website. The growth of this online community speaks volumes about the power of the thriving Chicago startup scene.
As proof of their success, Built in Chicago opened this month’s pitch with Scott Case, the founding CTO of Priceline.com. A veteran entrepreneur, Case is currently the COO of the Startup America Partnership. He spoke about his time at Priceline, a company that reached a billion dollars in revenue in less than 24 months.
Case praised the local startup community, reminding entrepreneurs that they are the heros of the American economy.
“The startup economy drives the economy forward. All of the new jobs for companies that are less then five years old over the last 30 years amounts to 40 million jobs,” he said to the crowd of developers, young entrepreneurs and seed funders. “You are everything that is driving our economy.”
Here is an overview of the five startups that Built in Chicago chose to pitch innovative visions this month:
The first pitch of the night was Toodalu, a mobile app that gives your purchases a purpose, allowing users to effortlessly earn cash back while donating to charity with a simple swipe of their credit card. Toodalu was founded to fill “a huge missed opportunity for restaurants and businesses that [currently] give donations. Toodalu connects those dollars to the people that are actually making the purchase, allowing a percent of your bill to go to a charity that you support,” said Todd O’hara, founder and CEO. Toodalu makes donating to a charity a seamless part of your daily routine: the technology is fully integrated with any location that accepts credit cards, eliminating check-ins, punch cards, coupons or scanners.
Silver Step is a website that provides wealth management education to new financial consumers, allowing them to rate and review financial services that meet their needs. “Yelp for financial services with an educational component,” is how founder and CEO Sean Story described the startup. Story was inspired by the lack of education in schools about personal finance: it’s something we deal with every day but most of us don’t learn it in school. Silver Step hopes to provide unbiased wealth management content allowing users to make informed decisions regarding personal finance.
Pin2Sell is a website that allows anyone with a PayPal account to create purchasable products. “Social commerce is supposed to reach $30 million in 2015,” said Francois Bouyer, who hopes to leverage Pintrest’s growing loyal following. The free service allows artists and business to target the dedicated community of people with common interests that can be found on the site that Bouyer called “the ideal site for users to sell their products.” Pin2Sell was created a by Clique Studios, a digital agency that specializes in e-commerce and startups.
GigFunder is a crowd-funding platform designed to help fans bring their favorite artist on tour to their home cities. Sites like “YouTube and Pandora have made distribution cheaper and easier than ever. New artists are developing non-local fan bases at a faster rate than they ever have but they don’t have enough money to tour and see their fans,” said founder Matt Pearson. This inspired him to create GigFunder, a Kickstarter for touring. The site helps fans empower touring by creating campaigns and pledging money. In return, it gives them tickets to shows, merchandise and other rewards. Similar to Kickstarter, if they raise enough money, the artist comes out for the show. If they don’t, no one gets charged.
Winbouts is a contest website that rewards its users with points that are redeemable for tangible goods. Not just your average contest website, Winbouts uses community voting and offers complete transparency about the judging of their contests. How does this transparency help the businesses involved? It increases the appeal of promotions, a tactic that is the best way “to really scale your business and increase brand awareness if you are a small startup,” said Michael Westerband, founder and CEO of Winbouts. “Promotional elasticity of a brand is up to twenty times higher than that of traditional advertising,” he continued. This community-voted judging also increases the appeal for users of the site: “they always win no matter what they do on our website. Whether you enter a contest or are voting on a contest, you win points,” Westerband said.