“Our reaction is that we went crazy.” So says Northwestern University graduate student Jaime Tabachnik, when he and his business partners found out their idea was the grand prize winner in this year’s VentureCat competition.

Tabachnik took the $150,000 top prize from among 25 semifinalists in the university-wide contest. He also won $9,000 for being first in the “Business Products and Services” category (there were five different categories), and another $1,000 for being a semifinalist.

The announcement was live-streamed Wednesday night. Coronavirus restrictions prevented the ceremony from being held in person.

The prize money will help launch “Por Adela,” a business which will help truck drivers in Tabachnik’s native Mexico collect payments more quickly.

Tabachnik had been operating a digital brokerage firm, matching truck drivers with shippers. “I noticed there was a huge problem for truckers getting working capital,” he said. It often took drivers two months to get paid after delivering a shipment, leaving them strapped when trying to pay for fuel, repairs, and other expenses.

“No one was addressing it,” he says. “Por Adela” (which translates from Spanish as “In Advance”) is a mobile app which lets drivers collect payments almost immediately after filing for them.

Tabachnik, 30, quit the brokerage business last month to focus on his new company. The prize money will help him move from a pilot program with “Por Adela” to expanding the company on a wider scale.

Tabachnik, 30, is in the executive MBA program at the Kellogg School of Management. The program lets students earn their master’s degree in two years, by spending one week a month on campus. Such a program let Tabachnik stay and work in Mexico along with his non-student partners most of the time. He will graduate in 2022.

VentureCat is open to any NU student. Two other proposals, each profiled recently in Evanston Now, won second and third place prize money.

Second place overall (and first in the Social Impact category) went to the “Equal Opportunity Book Box,” a children’s subscription reading club with books focusing on marginalized individuals. The startup donates a book to charity for each book sold.

Third place (wild card/non-category) went to Springrose, which designs and sells bras for women with mobility issues from strokes, arthritis, or other conditions.

Other category winners were:

  • LUKH (Consumer Products and Services) — An online rental service for South Asian fashion and culture.
  • Agroco (Energy and Sustainability) — Improving food production.
  • Agora Health (Life Sciences and Medical Innovations) — Digital management system for those with gastrointestinal conditions.

Entries were judged by academic experts and business professionals. There were 65 entrants this year, the most since the competition began in 2017.

Tabachnik says he is always impressed by his fellow students.

“They’re all incredibly creative and talented,” he says. “It’s contagious. I’m very motivated by my peers.”

“I hope to make everyone proud in the future,” he adds.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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