State Farm’s Next Door hosts first Amplify’d startup pitch

About two-dozen aspiring and impassioned startup founders pitched in front of judges and venture capitalists this Thursday at State Farm’s Next Door, making a case for their bootstrapped dreams. Amplify’d was the first event of its kind for Next Door, a community space that’s part cafe, part free financial planning resource.

The 21 ventures had to explain, in five minute lightning round pitches, how their concept is basically going to be the next great startup success story—startups like social-gaming apps; job and college placement resources; and social media platforms, among others. Judges in turn, questioned their value propositions, revenue models and the strength of their teams.

Judges hailed from State Farm; Lightbank; McMillianDoolittle; Dillon Kane Group; and the Plug and Play Tech Center with guest lectures delivered by BodyShopBids, IDEO Chicago (which helped build Next Door) and, sharing their startup success stories and lessons in innovation.

State Farm was eager to host its first startup pitch at Next Door as a natural extension of its community cafe mission, said Operations Vice President Jack Weekes. While offering a place for locals to seek individual financial coaching, Next Door also offers a full calendar of personal finance and business planning classes.

Weekes says it’s important for the 90-year-old insurance company to connect with young entrepreneurs because they both are in a constant state of analyzing new customer, technological and marketplace trends.

“While we have been successful for the past 90 years, we have a healthy fear of what the future looks like,” Weekes said. “Just because we’ve been successful for the past 90 years, doesn’t mean we’re going to be successful for the next nine years, and there have been many changes that have been affecting our business in insurance and financial services.”

Below are the first, second and third place winners of the night, declared by the judges and five other startup pitches to give you a taste of day-long event. If it’s one thing most of the startups had it common, it was in providing solutions to problems facing Next Door’s demographic: young, tech-savvy urban dwellers. Ah, synergy.

First Place: FasPark by Sergei Kozyrenko

Sergei Kozyrenko saw a major problem with the time-wasting hassle of finding street parking throughout Chicago. And as the CTO of FasPark, he’s working on developing a mobile app that delivers real-time local information about not only finding street parking but navigating to that location. Developed for Android first, FasPark already has 2,000 users testing it out. 

Second Place: eduLaunchpad by Scott Anderson

College financial consultant, Scott Anderson has seen parents struggle to put their kids into college all too often. So, the author and entrepreneur developed as a dynamic college search resource that has helped save families millions of dollars over the past decade by maximizing financial aid opportunities, increasing students’ chances of being accepted into their chosen colleges and minimizing student loan debt.

Third Place: Nidaba by Pocket Literacy Coach by Dr. Chris Drew

For decades, education reform has been a hot button issue in America throughout public schools. Former college professor turned entrepreneur, Dr. Chris Drew hopes to empower parents to take a more hands-on approach to supplement their K-12-aged kid’s education at home with social gamification mobile app, Nidaba. This text-based application is designed to send daily creative and productive educational activities to parents while awarding them with progress meters, points and badges awarded for successes. Pocket Literacy Coach, as it exists now, currently operates for 0-12 year olds.

Chicago Cargo by Brandon Gobel

One-man bike delivery company, Brandon Gobel wants to help local shops and restaurants become more sustainable and eco-friendly with his carless micro-distribution service, Chicago Cargo. While currently serving clients like Southport Grocery & Cafe to deliver pastries to cafes like Next Door, Gobel believes his cargo bicycles could also help offer an environmentally aware ethos for companies while providing the added value of hand-delivering their products.

Circlekick by Marc Mendiola

Transitioning from college life to the real world can be overwhelmingly lonely, or as co-founder and recent U of I grad, Marc Mendiola refers to it as: the “post-grad blues.” That’s where social platform Circlekick comes in. While Facebook connects you to people you already know, this intuitive and intelligent platform, still in development, helps you find friends with similar interests (sports, movies, music, etc.) and branch out.

eRud by Usman Hafeez

The cost for college textbooks, like college tuition, seems to be skyrocketing at an alarming rate—surprising when consider the success of ebooks. Students are still having to shell out hundreds of dollars a year on paper textbooks. But what if they were not only affordable and digital (on an array of devices), but offered students the ability to record and share lectures? eRud, developed by Usman Hafeez and Farid Hamid, does just that, providing a dynamic personalized study tool for classmates to share study notes with a focus on UX.

Every Last Morsel by Todd Edward Jones

Full disclosure: we are already in love with this idea at Doejo, not just because we helped with the site’s design but because who wouldn’t want to support a social network for gardeners to connect online to buy, trade and sell their freshly grown goods? Every Last Morsel, which just secured more than $12,000 in funding from its now-successful Kickstarter, wants to offer urban farmers and rooftop gardeners the ability to create a location-based profile of their farm or garden, nurturing a growing community of locavores.

projectspin by Ryan Spratt

When working out alone, you may struggle wondering if you have correct form and suffer from a lack motivation to keep it up. Personal trainer Ryan Spratt believes his mobile app startup solves both of those problems for those that can’t make it to an expensive gym spinning class with his fitness app, projectspin. While offering animated clips to show users perfect from in spinning, projectspin also integrates with your iTunes library to find the perfect tempo songs for each level of endurance.