Record $1.6 Million Awarded in the 25th Anniversary Finals of Chicago Booth’s New Venture Challenge; First-Place Winner Andes STR Lands More Than $660,000

The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University if Chicago has announced a record-breaking investment of $1.6 million in the winners of the 2021 Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC), a pioneering student startup accelerator marking its 25th anniversary.

The $1.6 million investment pool is by far the richest in the history of the program, founded in 1996 at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and is the largest in the nation for business school student startup competitions.

This prize pool, which does not include additional in-kind contributions for teams, is expected to grow next week when the Polsky Center debuts a Second Look event for other investors who requested an opportunity to invest in the 12 finalist teams.

“Thursday’s NVC finals were thrilling, with 12 incredibly diverse and competitive teams ranging from a crypto trading platform to makeup, from a vaccine to cure peanut allergies to an algorithm to fit clothes,” said NVC cofounder Steven Kaplan, Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance at Chicago Booth and Kessenich E.P. Faculty Director of the Polsky Center. “It was an extremely difficult decision for the judges and amazing to see the investment pool swell as a result of so much excitement about all the teams.”

The NVC, whose alumni companies include Grubhub, Simple Mills and Braintree/Venmo, just five years ago had a total investment pool of $285,000 and a top prize of $90,000.

This year, the winner of the Rattan L. Khosa, ’79, First Place Prize received more than $660,000. It went to Andes STR, which helps people invest in short-term rental properties by taking on the hassle of buying, furnishing and managing the properties.

“We never thought that we would get so much money,” said Sebastian Rivas, cofounder and CEO of Andes STR. “It’s a very good problem to have.”

Rivas, 31, a Chicago Booth student who expects to graduate next week, started the company in Toronto two years ago after quitting his job in investment banking to try his hand at entrepreneurship before starting business school. A native of Santiago, Chile, Rivas said the company’s revenues put him through Booth.

He plans to use the new investment on customer acquisition, building an app and improving the algorithms that are core to Andes STR’s service.

Second place was awarded to phlaxis, a startup developing a vaccine to prevent and treat peanut allergies and other food sensitivities. Phlaxis received nearly $280,000 in investment, including the Moonshot Prize, a $40,000 award that recognizes unique technologies to solve global challenges.

The University of Chicago has been encouraging researchers in its world-class labs to take advantage of the school’s entrepreneurship programs to get their innovations to market. Phlaxis is helmed by Jeff Hubbell, Eugene Bell Professor in Tissue Engineering and Deputy Dean for Development at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, who formed a team with students from Chicago Booth and the College.

“We are immensely proud of how much the NVC has grown, both in terms of investment and the sophistication of the teams participating,” said Mark Tebbe, an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Chicago Booth and a professor of the NVC. “It is another prime example of why Booth is the premier business school for entrepreneurship.”

For the first time, one team was an awarded a $5,000 People’s Choice award, as selected by the audience. It went to third-place winner Vetted, a subscription service for pet parents to help them cut back on vet bills, whose investment totaled nearly $200,000.

The NVC has consistently been ranked as a top seed accelerator, alongside Techstars and Y Combinator, which is unique for a program focused on students. Unlike many of its peers, the NVC is both a credit-bearing MBA class at Chicago Booth as well as a business plan competition.

Nearly 370 companies that went through the NVC are still active and thriving today. They have raised more than $1.2 billion, achieved $8.5 billion in mergers and exits and created more than 13,300 jobs. More than half of those jobs – 7,550 – were created by companies based in Chicago.

The judges who selected this year’s winners after the all-day business plan competition Thursday included several notable alumni of the NVC who became successful entrepreneurs or venture capitalists. Grubhub cofounder Matt Maloney, Simple Mills founder Katlin Smith, and Medspeed founder Jake Crampton served as judges for the first time.

Among the venture capitalists on the judging panel were NVC alumni Jai Das of Sapphire Ventures, Brent Hill of Origin Ventures, Van Jones of Drive Capital, and Koichiro Nakamura of Sozo Ventures. Nakamura and Mar Hershenson of Pear VC, another judge, are in the Midas List of top 100 venture capitalists in the world.

The 2021 winners are:

First Place ($666,250): Andes STR is a modern property management company that offers people a turnkey solution to buy, furnish and manage properties in the short-term rental market, providing customers with more flexibility and higher returns. Its investment includes the $180,000 Rattan L. Khosa, ’79, First Place Prize. (Team: Sebastian Rivas, Kristina Flathers, Matias Duhart, and Jiamin Yan).

Second Place ($278,750): phlaxis is a biotech platform that aims to fundamentally change the landscape of food allergies with a novel approach – a patented technology called “inverse vaccine” to cure and prevent peanut and other food allergies. The investment includes the $40,000 Moonshot Prize. (Team: Jeffrey A. Hubbell, Shijie Cao, Hikaru Ihara, and Josette Chang)

Third Place ($198,750): Vetted is an annual membership service that empowers pet parents to take control of their pets’ health, guiding them through pet parenthood at home, on the go, and in the vet’s office. The prize includes the contest’s first $5,000 People’s Choice award. (Team: Maya Shaposhnik Cadena, Ashley Brooks, Dr. Shelby Smyly, Geva Bidner, Greg Weiss, Delaney Wing, Seamus Naughton, Kealy Fitzsimmons, and Lindsey Whitlock)

Fourth Place ($96,250): Resette custom blends makeup and skincare into one product to simplify routines and offer personalized skinwear with benefits. (Team: Whitney McElwain, Veena Krishnan, Anna Simmons, Sicely Mireri, and Alana Giedraitis)

Fifth Place ($95,000): Aina lets shoppers virtually try on clothes directly from a retailer’s website using augmented reality (AR) technology with features like real-time view, size-level accuracy, and interactive garment rendering.(Team: Nisha Saboo, Pritesh Kanani, Tess Glassman-Kaufman, and Shazia Ijaz)

Sixth Place ($77,500) ML Tech is a high-frequency trading (HFT) platform that connects crypto investors with top researchers worldwide. The platform leverages cutting-edge AI solutions and allows researchers to produce new strategies at an industry-leading pace. (Team: Leo Mindyuk, Markus Leballeux, Aniruddha Deshpande, Ying Xu, John Wismer, Haoyang Wang, Ivan Khurudzhi, Amrutha Sivakumar, Mathew Kapela, Chloe Fu, Qi He, and Yalin Yang)

Seventh Place ($50,000) Annuity Risk provides risk management solutions for indexed annuities, which represent a fast-growing market. The platform intends to empower annuity providers with advanced tool sets for hedging, derivative valuation and machine learning for customer data analytics. (Team: Gaurav Singhal, Brian Klein, Charles Chong, Soo Jin Jeong, Paulo Andrade Blanc, and Manik Pasricha)

Eighth Place ($45,000): StoryEasel is a memory preservation platform that empowers users to create, share, and preserve precious family stories and memories together with friends and family. (Team: Niso Moyo, Tendaaishe Chitima, Manish Rahatkar, Mike Mokodanski, Chinzo Davaatseren, Mqondisi Ndlovu, Stephanie Regimbal, Sneha Vasudevan, Rayna Palsule, Simone Haradence, and Ben Rachman)

Ninth Place ($32,500) PainNavigator is an evidence-based pain management app that provides a customized, holistic program to help those struggling with chronic pain. The program includes exercise therapy, yoga, wellness strategies, and pain management education. (Team: Dr. Ankur Dave, Dr. Konstantinos Kostas, Kelly McKay, Priya Shah, Austin Bostock, Gandhi Bhakthavachalam, and Elanda Goduni)

Three finalist teams each received a $20,000 investment. They are:

  • deetz, a mobile app for people to find out what’s happening in their community in the moment and for businesses to promote specials and events.
  • Ping, a B2B, SaaS, wearable tech company that focuses on safety, wellness, and social connection for senior citizens.
  • SHEVOLVE, which makes nutrition supplements more convenient and more enjoyable for women through midlife and beyond by packing essential nutrients in one tasty bite.

Since its founding 25 years ago, when its prize pool was $20,000, the NVC has grown to include five distinct tracks. The Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge is open to all graduate students at the University of Chicago. The College New Venture Challenge (CNVC) is for University of Chicago undergraduates. The Global New Venture Challenge (GNVC) is for executive MBA students at Chicago Booth’s Hong Kong and London campuses as well as Chicago. The John Edwardson, ‘72, Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC) is for nonprofits or startups focused on a social mission. And the Alumni New Venture Challenge (ANVC) is open to all University of Chicago alumni.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the accelerator, the Polsky Center launched a podcast series featuring interviews with notable alumni of the NVC.

Media contact: Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz,

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