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Polsky Center Gives a Leg Up to Young Entrepreneurs in Chicago

GrubHub got its start there and now two more student-run businesses will too.

On Wednesday, students from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business won big prize money for their businesses. The companies Manifest and BrewBike won $315,000 and $45,000, respectively, from the New Venture Challenge. NVC was launched in 1996 by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago.

The online food ordering and delivery service GrubHub was started by Matt Maloney, who received his MBA from the University of Chicago in 2010. Maloney started GrubHub in 2004 and tied to win first place at NVC in 2006 where his team received $17,500.

Steve Kaplan, faculty director of the Polsky Center, said Maloney’s success was a really good business idea and the timing was right. Kaplan was tapped by Robert Hamada, who was the dean of the Booth business school from 1993 until 2001, to start an entrepreneurship program at the university.

He says the transformation from when he started working at the business school to now is night and day.

“When I started we had three courses and we were not a concentration … [now] we have over 20 courses that count for entrepreneurship. We have what I think is the best business plan competition in the country in the New Venture Challenge,” Kaplan said.

  • Scenes from the New Venture Challenge held Wednesday, May 30, 2018. (Courtesy of Matt Marton)

    Scenes from the New Venture Challenge held Wednesday, May 30, 2018. (Courtesy of Matt Marton)

  • (Courtesy of Matt Marton)

    (Courtesy of Matt Marton)

  • (Courtesy of Matt Marton)

    (Courtesy of Matt Marton)

  • (Courtesy of Matt Marton)

    (Courtesy of Matt Marton)

  • (Courtesy of Matt Marton)

    (Courtesy of Matt Marton)

  • (Courtesy of Matt Marton)

    (Courtesy of Matt Marton)

Meenakshi Lakshmanan, 36, is originally from India, though she has lived in the U.S. for the past 14 years. Lakshmanan is in her first year of Booth’s two-year MBA program. She and her six-member team won the grand prize for their company Manifest.

Manifest simplifies and accelerates the process to transfer 401(k) earnings. Lakshmanan was initially surprised that transferring one’s 401(k) is such a difficult process.

There was already another startup, Vest, working to solve that problem. Laskshmanan met Anuraag Tripathi, the founder of Vest, at the Polsky Center. The pair teamed up and won first place at the numo Fintech Challenge in January for Vest, receiving $10,000. That challenge is also hosted by the Polsky Center.

Though the name changed from Vest to Manifest, the core of the idea behind the business did not. Manifest is planning to use the prize money to test its business concept. 

Another NVC winner, Randy Paris, CEO of BrewBike and current Booth student, will turn 30 in under a week. He got an early birthday present of sorts Wednesday. 

BrewBike supplies Northwestern University students with cold-brewed coffee. The original founder of BrewBike, Lucas Philips, sought out Paris to help him grow his business. In January 2018, Paris joined the team. BrewBike is planning to use the prize money to expand their services to Arizona State University.

“It’s warm and students love iced coffee and we found the location to start BrewBike at ASU was just perfect,” Paris said about the planned expansion to the university.

Kaplan, Lakshmanan and Paris join us to talk coffee, 401(k)s and entrepreneurship.

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