How the Build and Launch Accelerators Helped Lead These Startups to Success

The Polsky Center’s Build and Launch Accelerators are 10-week summer programs that provide a unique opportunity for founders to focus solely on their businesses and social enterprises in a collaborative and dynamic environment.

The Build track is designed for earlier-stage ventures. Through weekly workshops and coaching, these teams work on product development and customer and market validation, as well as receive a $7,000 investment.

The Launch track designed for investment-ready teams to focus on fundraising, selling, and gaining and maintaining momentum. It includes a $10,000 investment in the business, networking opportunities with venture capitalists, and assistance in building pitch and fundraising decks.

Both programs offer more than $100,000 in in-kind services, such as web hosting and incorporation help, and culminate in a presentation event at the end of summer, where each team pitches their business plans to an audience of investors

Initially launched in 2012 and expanded into two tracks in 2021, the accelerators are open to all full- and part-time University of Chicago students, as well as alumni within five years of graduation. Since its inception, many teams have gone through the accelerators and used it as a launching pad to success.

We checked in with a few of the recent teams to ask how the accelerators helped them and to see where they are at now.

>>The application deadline to participate in the Build and Launch Accelerators is April 1, 2024. Click here for more information.


Fillow – Launch Accelerator 2022

What does Fillow do?

Fillow marries the ease and convenience of tampons with the reusability and long-lasting wear of menstrual cups – providing a sustainable, all-day-wear tampon alternative for modern women seeking an effortless and mess-free period product.

As the first ever menstrual “disc” with an applicator, our disc is made out of medical grade, reusable materials and collects flow all day with ease. When it comes time to insert and remove the product, women simply use our applicator and the disc’s removal string, emulating the very familiar user-experience of a tampon. With our applicator, pullstring, and specifically designed disc, we’ve engineered an incredibly easy, quick, and mess-free way for women to forget about their periods all day long.

What have you been up to since the Accelerator?

A year after participating in the Accelerator, Fillow closed a pre-seed fundraising round and has worked tirelessly towards perfecting our product design, going through countless phases of prototyping and reiterations. We have partnered with a medical device development and regulatory firm to ensure the efficacy and quality of our product. Last year, we launched a 30-day Kickstarter campaign to garner early adopters and gain market validation. In the campaign, not only did we reach our fundraising goal within the first two hours of the project being live, we also received over 2,000 product pre-orders, earned over $116K in revenue, and placed in the top 4% of successfully funded Kickstarter projects.

Now, we are currently in the process of setting up manufacturing in an FDA-registered medical device facility with the hopes of launching on ecommerce by the end of the year!

How did the Accelerator help you succeed?

The Accelerator provided us with great structure to focus on our company. Not only did the investment allow us to further build Fillow during an early stage in our company, but the small and close-knit cohort size made us feel like we were really getting the attention we needed to thrive.

What was your favorite part of the Accelerator?

Our favorite part of the Accelerator was the Demo Day at the end of the program. It offered us a wonderful opportunity to practice our pitch in front of a large audience, but also provided us the opportunity to meet and connect with local investors.

Any words of advice for somebody thinking about applying for the accelerator?

The Accelerator is a great opportunity to hone your vision and business model. Definitely take advantage of the wide network offered by the Accelerator by actively engaging with mentors, fellow founders, and industry experts. Also, don’t be afraid to iterate on your business model based on feedback and new insights gained during the program!

Nenes – Build Accelerator 2022 and Launch Accelerator 2023

What does Nenes do?

Nenes is on a mission to build a better planet for the next generations, one tiny outfit at a time. We offer our customers new and renewed high-quality baby clothes at affordable prices using our sustainable circular model.

What have you been up to since the Accelerator?

Since our participation in the Accelerator, Nenes has been tirelessly building upon the momentum gained during the program. We’ve made significant strides, including the development and launch of our official website and a robust product line, exceeding our initial MVP. Moreover, we’ve successfully introduced a comprehensive unboxing experience, debuted over 50 new products, established a dynamic online presence through social media engagement, and are in the final stages of securing our next round of financing.

How did the Accelerator help you succeed?

The Accelerator played a pivotal role in our journey towards success. The invaluable resources provided by the program, including access to prime office space, the enthusiastic support of talented undergrad interns from UChicago, and guidance from experienced coaches, were instrumental in shaping our growth trajectory and refining our offerings. That’s the perfect recipe for an entrepreneur to gain momentum.

What was your favorite part of the Accelerator?

One of the most rewarding aspects of the Accelerator experience was the collaborative environment fostered within the Polsky Exchange. Working alongside other entrepreneurs, our dedicated team of five in the vibrant city of Chicago, particularly during the summer months, provided an ideal backdrop for embracing the challenges and excitement of startup life.

Any words of advice for somebody thinking about applying for the accelerator?

Seize this opportunity without hesitation. The immersive experience offered during the early stages of startup development is unparalleled. Spending a transformative summer surrounded by like-minded individuals, supported by a stellar leadership team, is an invaluable investment in the future success of your venture.

TexChange Unbrokered – Build Accelerator 2023

What does TexChange Unbrokered do?

TexChange Unbrokered is a platform for private firms in hard industries to buy and sell their material in the global market without brokers. We bring together several tools for small and medium firms to use that they may have had limited access to: AI generated due diligence reports for transparency, supply chain mapping technology for visibility, blockchain tech for traceability, and a comprehensive market place for direct B2B transaction. By using these features, firms can increase their profits visibility and transparency while decreasing risks.

What have you been up to since the Accelerator?

Since the accelerator, we’ve applied and participated in several accelerators at 1871 to include Pyros Build, LTNTech, and now Web3 Innovation Lab. Additionally, we’ve continued to build our database, conduct market interviews with clients, and signed up clients to use the platform ahead of beta launch. Furthermore, we’ve have been traveling across the U.S. attending conferences with our target market. This has been my favorite part because being a part of the construction and mining industry myself, I love to hear what is going on and keeping my ear to the ground. Moreover, we have intentions to launch the beta soon, and have lined up some commercial construction contracts to add more skin in the game and actually pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and show our construction network in Texas a use case using our own jobs.

So, a lot has happened in less than a year. We’ve built the front end, back end, tied them together; put our MVP in the marketplace, set the foundation for our company, have the first version of our AI-generated due diligence reports, developed and are continuing to flesh out our supply chain tech, and we are actively researching and developing our blockchain generated leads.

How did the Accelerator help you succeed?

The Build Accelerator helped turn an idea of a solution to the problem we face across hard industries into a real solution, though providing mentors, advisors, legal services, summit, interns, grant money, etc.

Unlike most of my peers who were University of Chicago Boothies (Booth Business School graduates or students), I am a Harris School of Public Policy graduate student. My expertise is that I am a founder match – I experienced the problem we are solving firsthand, but I am not a Boothie… yet. So, I had a lot to learn about business and tech, including how to turn an idea into a company; and man did I learn a lot.

With the Build Accelerator, I was shown where to begin, and like a sponge, I took it all in.

What was your favorite part of the Accelerator?

My favorite part was the mentors, advisors, and my peers. They’ve become resources and support that I keep coming back to even after the accelerator. One of our advisors from the accelerator even came onto our advisory board.

Any words of advice for somebody thinking about applying for the accelerator?

My advice is to accept that you know what you know, and that we as founders may believe we are the best to solve the problem, but acknowledge and accept what we don’t know everything, and that people around you have something to offer.

Another piece of advice is to really think about if this is what you want to do. The path of a founder is challenging and the odds are against you, but if you are open minded, scrappy, resilient, empathetic, and can manage your time, you can succeed.

Also, rely on your network because while the journey is seemingly solitary, your fellow founders will empathize and understand what you are going through. When you find those fellow founders and develop a bond, it’s lasting and you can lean on that support.

Familial – Build Accelerator 2023

What does Familial do?

Familial is an innovative and thorough tool to give you and your family an easier way to manage long-term planning. Familial’s software covers a holistic set of topics: from asset organization and personal property inventories to household management. To do this, Familial simplifies these sometimes complex and often time-consuming tasks into manageable steps, all in an easy-to-use, multimedia-forward application.

What have you been up to since the Accelerator?

Since the summer Accelerator, we have stayed busy! After significant customer discovery during the accelerator, we moved into design development and then technology product development during the fall. And just last month, we launched our pilot product to select partners and look forward to a broader launch after our pilot.

How did the Accelerator help you succeed?

At the beginning of the summer, Paul Cavalieri gave each of us the goal to conduct 50 customer discovery interviews before the end of the program. This goal and these interviews proved to be invaluable in understanding the long-term planning problem, pivoting our business model, and refining Familial’s solution. As learnings grew, Familial evolved significantly over those eight weeks and we would not be where we are today without setting that goal last summer. Many of those interviews came from our Polsky summer mentors. Our mentors generously leveraged their networks to make connections and broaden our network.

Additionally, during the summer we were given the opportunity to bring a University of Chicago undergraduate onto the team. That is when we were lucky to have Elena Nevins join us, who has continued to help build Familial during the school year.

What was your favorite part of the Accelerator?

My favorite part of the accelerator was collaborating with the other founders. While all of the companies in the accelerator were unique, we were at similar stages and therefore had many overlapping problems to solve and decisions to make. Every week the founders in our cohort shared their struggles, the hurdles they were overcoming, and the traction they were making. I learned a ton and was continuously inspired by the other founders in our cohort.

Any words of advice for somebody thinking about applying for the accelerator

Do it! It will introduce you to the amazing and supportive organization of Polsky, and will be invaluable during this critical time of your start-up journey.

The Build and Launch application deadline is Apil 1, 2024. Click here to apply.

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