Student startup Cue the Curves, an app that aims to improve the plus-size shopping experience, earned a $150,000 grand prize at VentureCat, Northwestern University’s pitching competition.
Hosted on May 31 at the Kellogg Global Hub, VentureCat is an annual collaboration among the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Kellogg School of Management, the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center and The Garage. The competition each year selects 25 of the University’s most promising startup teams from five different tracks to compete in semi-finals for more than $325,000 in prize money.
Since 2014, VentureCat has distributed more than $1.5 million in non-dilutive funding (funding that does not give away equity).
The all-day event was streamed online while students pitched solutions for a variety of global problems ranging from online safety to cancer treatment. Teams pitched to judges in their industry tracks behind closed doors early in the day before the selected few moved onto the public showcase, the final round.
Cue the Curves, the online platform designed to support and build community for plus-size women and clothing brands, won first place and $150,000; second place and $50,000 went to Zeestr, a fundraising platform for nonprofits; and biotech startup BMImmune, a company working to treat triple-negative breast cancer, took home third place and $25,000. Hundreds of text votes indicated that The Neuron, a media company that educates professionals about AI, would take home the Audience Favorite Prize of $2,000.
Semifinalists must win their category — business products and services, consumer products and services, energy and sustainability, life sciences and medical innovations or social impact — to advance to the final round or earn the coveted “wildcard” slot (which also went to The Neuron). Cue the Curves, which won the consumer products and services track, was represented by CEO and founder Charlotte Oxnam, a fourth-year student at the McCormick School of Engineering.
Oxnam said her experience from last year’s VentureCat, where she earned second place in her category and, therefore, did not advance to the finals, helped prepare her for this year’s competition.
“You have to have an intense level of trust in yourself to compete in VentureCat,” Oxnam said. “As I graduate and transition to full-time, this win is the difference between paying myself a salary or not.”
Oxnam’s win marks the second year in a row that a McCormick student has taken home the grand prize following wildfire detection startup InfernoGuard’s top honor.
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 2023 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, a life trustee, and former chairman of the board of trustees at Northwestern, received both his bachelor’s and law degrees from Northwestern. Mike Raab, executive director of The Garage, and Hayes Ferguson, director of the Farley Center, hosted the event.
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.