Gearflow wins VentureCat pitch competition at NU

Ben Preston with partner Luke Powers.

From a field of more than 50 startups that applied, Gearflow won the grand prize for its construction marketplace Wednesday at VentureCat, Northwestern University's annual student startup competition.

This year's virtual event, powered by The Levy Institute and co-sponsored by Lanny and Sharon Martin, featured finalist pitches and a special keynote presentation from Sam Shank, a 2004 Kellogg grad and CEO of HotelTonight and head of hotels at Airbnb.

Forty expert judges awarded prizes to startups in five industry tracks: Business Products and Services, Consumer Products and Services, Energy and Sustainability, Life Sciences and Medical Innovations, and Social Impact and Nonprofits.

Gearflow, led by Kellogg student Ben Preston, provides a marketplace for reliable suppliers for all heavy equipment needs. In addition to the grand prize, it also was named the audience favorite by text voting during the event.

Qade, from Spencer Levitt, Weinberg, ’22 and Austin Pager, School of Education and Social Policy, ’21 won the Consumer Products and Services category and second place overall for its platform that brings gamers together to keep track of video game wagers and statistics.

Blip, from Dennis Kontorovich, Kellogg School, ’20, Sophia Wennstedt, Kellogg and McCormick, ’21, Chance Cobb, School of Communications, ’20 and Thibaut Feremans, Kellogg School, ’21, won the Energy and Sustainability category for its residential energy storage solution focused on saving renters money by leveraging price arbitrage and repurposed EV batteries.

B-Vitals, from Hanna Colin, Kellogg School, ‘20, won the Life Sciences and Medical Innovations category for a service that embeds a child’s behavioral health into the standard pediatrician visit.

Tilt, from Sinthujua Nagalingam, Kellogg School, ’20, won the Social Impact and Nonprofits category and third place overall for its service that partners with high schools to scale their financial aid advising and help families plan for the costs of higher education.

And WareIQ, from Hardik Tiwari, Kellogg School, ’21, was the Wild Card category winner for its asset-light distributed fulfillment platform that enables online sellers to offer a same-day and next-day delivery experience. 

“Each year, I’m proud to see the caliber of startup businesses that are developed through VentureCat’s mentoring and coaching. This year was unique as the students needed to entirely prepare and pitch virtually. It showed that the best startup leaders were ready to rise to the challenge to showcase their early-stage businesses,” said Larry Levy, managing partner, Levy Family Partners, and longtime trustee at Northwestern University.

VentureCat is a university-wide competition and open to students at all levels of study. The competition is a collaborative effort among The Kellogg School of Management, The Garage, the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center and The Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“We’re honored and thrilled to win Northwestern’s VentureCat pitch competition. We were among a competitive crowd with startups that could make an impact in their respective industries and we’re thankful for the sponsors who make this prize money possible,” said Preston, co-founder of Gearflow and student at Kellogg School of Management. “Next, we plan to use this prize money to add to the team, which will help us tremendously."

Startups in VentureCat's five tracks compete in private semifinals with a panel of industry experts as judges, and then the top team in each track moves on to compete in finals with a panel of prominent investors and entrepreneurs.

Before the competition, the teams complete a four-week pitch prep program that provided mentorship, graphic design and pitch coaching.

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