Student startup InfernoGuard, a rapid wildfire detection company, took home the $150,000 grand prize yesterday (May 25) at VentureCat, Northwestern University’s pitching competition.
A collaboration among the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Kellogg School of Management, the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center and The Garage, VentureCat showcases 25 of the most promising University startup teams each year from five industry tracks to compete for more than $325,000 of prize money.
Since 2014, VentureCat has awarded more than $1.5 million in non-dilutive. (without giving away equity) funding.
After two years of virtual programming, the all-day event offered both in-person programming and online streaming. Students’ pitched business solutions for a variety of global problems — from food insecurity to carbon emissions. Teams pitched behind closed doors to judges earlier in the day before a selected few moved on to the final round.
InfernoGuard, which provides prompt wildfire detection and notifications to large-scale landowners, won first place and $150,000; second place and $50,000 went to Beni, a browser extension that finds high-quality secondhand alternatives to top brands; and Zuri Fertility, an app that helps track human fertility more accurately, took home third place and $25,000. Zuri Fertility also won the Audience Favorite award and an additional $2,000.
To advance to the final round, semifinalists had to win their category — business products and services, consumer products and services, energy and sustainability, life sciences and medical innovations or social impact — or win the one “wildcard” spot. InfernoGuard, which won the energy and sustainability category, was represented by CEO and co-founder Kevin Kaspar, a sophomore at the McCormick School of Engineering.
Students from competing teams represented the Kellogg School of Management; the School of Communication; Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences; McCormick; the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications; Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the Pritzker School of Law.
Originally called the Northwestern University Venture Challenge (NUVC), VentureCat was introduced in 2007. The 2022 VentureCat season was supported by volunteers who aided in coaching, advising and judging. The Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice co-sponsored the event with Lanny and Sharon Martin. Lanny Martin chairs the board of trustees at Northwestern and received both his bachelor’s and law degrees from Northwestern.
The competition continues to distinguish itself from other pitch competitions around the globe by organizing competitors in five industry-specific tracks, which helps to showcase expertise from each school across the University.
Past participants of VentureCat have raised more than $500 million in venture capital since 2014. Alumni report being accepted to prestigious accelerator programs, successfully joining exiting companies and creating jobs through their business growth.
For more information on winners and semifinalists, visit The Garage’s results page.