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Where Are They Now

VentureCat, Northwestern's annual student startup competition, is an evolution of the Northwestern University Venture Challenge (NUVC), which was introduced in 2007. 

Past participants have raised millions in venture capital funding, been accepted into prestigious accelerator programs, successfully exited companies, launched new products and created jobs through their business growth. Below are some updates on VentureCat and NUVC  startup founders' achievements. If you are a past participant and have an update to share on your startup, please email us

VentureCat (formerly NUVC) was the first time that we had presented to investors and our success in winning money in the Energy track certainly gave us the confidence that we could go out, raise more money and build the business. ”

Dave Snydacker
Lilac Solutions


Dave Snydacker, Lilac Solutions

Dave Snydacker (McCormick PhD ’16), founder of Lilac Solutions, won first place in the Energy & Sustainability Track in NUVC 2016. Lilac Solutions has developed and patented a new high performance ion exchange (IX) technology to extract lithium from brines with minimal cost and low environmental footprint, enabling lithium producers to accelerate project development, boost lithium recovery, streamline operations and unlock new resources.. In February of 2024, Lilac raised $145M from Bill Gates's Breakthrough Energy Ventures, as well as other investors.

Matt Elenjickal, FourKites

Matt Elenjickal (Kellogg ’14), founder and CEO of FourKites, won first place in the BtoB Track in NUVC 2014. FourKites offers real-time visibility, tracking, and other logistics solutions for global companies of all sizes. Since launching in 2014, the company has grown to nearly 500 employees and has hundreds of the world's most recognized brands on its platform. In March 2021, FourKites raised $100 million in Series D funding, bringing its total capital raised to more than $200 million.



$1+ billion
Raised by VentureCat Founders Since 2014
Casey Qadir

Casey Qadir, Hubly Surgical

Casey Qadir (Weinberg ’19) is the co-founder and CEO of Hubly Surgical.  Hubly is forming the  future of safe neurotechnology by modernizing bedside intracranial access. The Hubly team was a VentureCat semifinalist in 2019 and 2020, and the idea was developed in the NUvention Medical course at Northwestern.

In 2023, Casey led the company to closing a $3 million seed round, bringing Hubly's lifetime funding to $5.42 million. Hubly received FDA clearance for the Hubly Drill in May 2023.

Jaime Tabachnik, Solvento

Jaime Tabachnik (Kellogg ’22) co-founded Solvento, a fintech company that helps small and medium sized truckers grow in LATAM. Solvento (formerly Por Adela) was the grand prize winner in VentureCat 2021 and received $160,000. In December 2023, the company announced it raised $53.5 million in debt and new funding.
Jaime Tabachnik
Sarah Ahmad

Sarah Ahmad, Stable

Sarah Ahmad (McCormick ’18) founded HotPlate, an app that helped diners discover the best dishes at restaurants and was a semifinalist in VentureCat 2018. After graduating, Sarah moved to the Bay Area and worked as a UX engineer before continuing her entrepreneurial journey and co-founding Stable—a virtual address and mailroom for startups. Stable was part of the Y Combinator Winter 2020 batch and is currently working to build their team. 

Brunna Becaro Seabra, DinDin

Brunna Becaro Seabra (Kellogg ’20), co-founder of DinDin, won second place in the 2019 VentureCat finals. DinDin is changing the access to essential financial services in Brazil by facilitating financial inclusion of the unbanked and underbanked population through its B2B2C solutions. In September 2020 DinDin was acquired by one of the largest banks in Brazil

Ben Preston

Ben Preston, Gearflow

Ben Preston (Kellogg ’21), co-founder of Gearflow, won the grand prize and $161,000 at VentureCat 2020. Gearflow is the first parts marketplace built for construction. In June 2021, Gearflow raised $3 million in a seed round, this brings their funding raised to date to $4.6 million.

Lucas Philips, Brewbike

Lucas Philips (SESP ’19) co-founded Brewbike at Northwestern in his freshman year. Brewbike partners with college students to launch innovative coffee concepts, and won second place in the VentureCat 2018 finals. The company has raised $4 million dollars, employs students on several campuses and has an e-commerce business. In 2021 Lucas moved on from his role with Brewbike and he acquired a company in the classic auto industry where he serves as president.

Amit Ayer, Rhaeos

Amit Ayer (Kellogg ’19), co-founder of Rhaeos, won third place in the VentureCat 2018 finals. Rhaeos has developed a noninvasive thermal sensor for use in the monitoring of ventricular shunt function. The company grew from a collaboration between material scientists and neurological surgeons at Northwestern. In 2021 the company was awarded a $4 million multi-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and raised $2.2 million in an oversubscribed seed round.

Akshat Thirani, Amper

Akshat Thirani (McCormick ’16), was a semifinalist in the 2016 NUVC competition with Amper—a real-time OEE tracking and analytics tool designed to help precision manufacturers elevate their factories. After graduating, Akshat continued to develop the business and was featured in Forbes' 30 under 30 list for Manufacturing & Industry. In April 2022,  Amper raised $11 million in Series A funding bringing its total funding raised to  $14.87 million.

Sahar Jamal, Maziwa

Sahar Jamal (Kellogg ’19), founder of Maziwa, won first place in the Social Impact Track and the Audience Favorite Vote Award in VentureCat 2019. Maziwa is the only breast pump specifically designed for working mothers in developing markets. Maziwa was selected from a pool of over 2,600 applicants from 135 countries for the MIT SOLVE Class of 2020 and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded award for Maternal & Newborn Health.

Tushar Garg & Steve Lane, Flyhomes

Tushar Garg (Kellogg ’16) and Steve Lane (Kellogg & Pritzker, ’16) competed in NUVC 2015 with Triveso, which was a data company concept focused on rating homes for energy efficiency and selling that data to real estate brokerages. Soon after NUVC, Steve and Tushar pivoted their concept to develop Flyhomes, which launched in 2016 and is a real estate startup using financial innovation to back home buyers. Flyhomes closed a $150 million Series C round in June 2021, and has bought and sold more than $2.6 billion worth of homes since launching.
SIA Health

Alexei Mlodinow, SIA

Alexei Mlodinow, pictured, (Feinberg & Kellogg ’17) and Todd Cruikshank (Kellogg ’17) won the grand prize in NUVC 2016 with Surgical Innovation Associates (SIA). The company is developing next-generation solutions for reconstructive and aesthetic surgery that improve the surgeon and patient experience. 

SIA received FDA clearance to market its advanced bioabsorbable mesh in 2018, and was acquired by Integra Life Sciences for an estimated $140M in December 2022.

Sruti Bharat, FutureMap

Sruti Bharat (Kellogg ’19), co-founder of FutureMap, won second place in the Social Impact Track in VentureCat 2019. FutureMap helps first-gen college students navigate their transition to the workforce. In 2020 FutureMap coached more than 300 students, created new job opportunities and brought in revenue-generating national partners. 


Other Past Participants Updates

Aidan Mouat (Chemistry PhD ’16 / NUVC 2015)
Hazel TechnologiesSelected as a Finalist for Fast Company’s 2020 World Changing Ideas and closed a $70 million Series C round in April 2021

Nick Anastasiades (Kellogg ’18 / VentureCat 2018)
2nd Kitchen - In 2019 raised $4.35 million in funding and in 2021 the company was acquired by Reef.

Jacob Jordan (SESP ’20 and SPS ’21)
Equal Opportunity Book Box - Won the Chicago Innovation Awards Social Innovator Award in 2021.

Ross Krasner (Medill ’18 / VentureCat 2018)
Ryu Games - Raised $2.3 million in a seed round in March 2021

Dennis Kontorovich (Kellogg ’20) Sophia Wennstedt (Kellogg & McCormick ’21) Chance Cobb (School of Communications ’20) and Thibaut Feremans ( Kellogg ’21) / VentureCat 2020
Blip - Won $100,000 in the ASU Innovation Open in 2021
and launched their Kickstarter for the blipOne product, meeting their funding goal in just two days.

Blair Pircon (Kellogg ’16 / VentureCat 2016)
The Graide NetworkAcquired in March 2021 by Marco Learning, a leading provider of teacher professional development and AP® exam prep

Kathryn Bernell (Kellogg ’18 / VentureCat 2018)
reHarvest Provisions (formerly reBLEND) - Raised $1.5 million in a seed round in January 2022.

Dave Costello (Kellogg ’19 / VentureCat 2019)
Kengos - Launched their first shoe which is 98% plant-based 

Lance Li (Kellogg ’17 / VentureCat 2017)
Aerospec TechnologiesFormed major partnership to give solar energy providers cutting-edge data 

Ben Weiss (SESP ’17 / VentureCat 2017)
Zcruit - Acquired by Reigning Champs in 2017 and continues to operate out of Chicago

Saif Bhatti (McCormick ’20 / VentureCat 2020)
Renoster Systems - One of ten companies selected for the 2021 Techstars Sustainability Accelerator in partnership with The Nature Conservancy