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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 originally 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

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.




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 is a mining technology company that is transforming lithium production. In September of 2021, the company announced it is closing a $150 million Series B funding round, led by Chris Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital and T. Rowe Price. Earlier in 2021, Lilac won Early Stage Company of the Year on the Global Cleantech 100 List

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

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. 

Sarah Ahmad

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, 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.

Ben Preston

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 four campuses, has an e-commerce business and six full-time employees. 

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 the fall of 2020 Rhaeos won the MedTech Innovator Global Competition and received $350,000 in prize money, and in September 2021 the company was awarded a $4 million multi-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. 

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 Amper has raised more than $3 million in funding and has been featured in Forbes' 30 under 30 list for Manufacturing & Industry.

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 Greg & Steve Lane, Flyhomes

Tushar Greg (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.

Alexei Mlodinow, SIA

Alexei Mlodinow, pictured, (Feinberg & Kellogg ’17) and Todd Cruikshank (Kellogg ’17) won a shared 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 has raised more than $4 million in funding and recently announced its soft tissue support product (DuraSorb®) will be available for use in Europe and was first used in the U.S. in 2019.
SIA Health

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

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

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)
reBLEND - Now sold on Thrive Market & Amazon

Nick Anastasiades (Kellogg ’18 / VentureCat 2018)
2nd Kitchen - Received a 2020 Chicago Innovation Award and in 2019 raised $4.35 million in funding

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

Casey Grage (Weinberg ’19 / VentureCat 2019)
Hubly - Received $30,000 grant from National Science Foundation 

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

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

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