Where Are They Now? Podcast

How did Grubhub grow from a startup to a $7 billion food delivery giant? How did Braintree get a jump on the mobile payment market? The founders of those and other successful companies delve into their entrepreneurial journeys in a podcast series to mark the 25th anniversary of the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, a top-ranked startup accelerator at the University of Chicago. The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation each week will present an interview with an alum of the program, conducted by professors and mentors.

Upcoming schedule of episodes:

  • NVC Overview: Why the NVC Works?
  • ExplORer Surgical
  • Benchprep
  • Simple Mills
  • Foxtrot
  • Power2Switch
  • PrettyQuick
  • Braintree
  • Grubhub
  • Winner of the 2021 Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge
Mike LaVitola // Foxtrot
Episode 5

Mike LaVitola // Foxtrot

May 13, 2021

Foxtrot cofounder and CEO Mike LaVitola has become expert at hearing “no.” He was not initially accepted into the New Venture Challenge, and after he talked his way in, his team did not make the finals. Despite steady revenue, it took years to put together a seed round.

But LaVitola remained committed to his idea of a reimagined convenience store, with curated locally-made products that could be ordered online for delivery on demand.

The ecommerce model soon evolved to include physical stores after Foxtrot’s first distribution warehouse, in the West Loop, became a community gathering place and organic marketing for the brand.

“People were in and having an espresso in the morning and taking meetings there and grabbing wine after work, and it just became this total embodiment for the brand,” LaVitola said.

Chicago-based Foxtrot in February announced a $45 million Series B round. It has eight stores in Chicago, two in Dallas and two in Washington, DC, with plans to double its store count this year. It is also recently launched nationwide shipping.

Read more. >>

Katlin Smith // Simple Mills
Episode 4

Katlin Smith // Simple Mills

May 6, 2021

Katlin Smith, founder and CEO of Simple Mills, wowed her first buyer with a muffin recipe using almond flour. Now the Chicago-based natural baking brand is the category leader in baking mixes and crackers. Its products are in more than 27,000 stores, from Whole Foods to Walmart.

Smith, who had her products in just four stores when she started at Chicago Booth, was a co-winner of the 2014 Edward L. New Venture Challenge. The NVC helped her understand the importance of spending on marketing for her brand and how to make a case to investors, she said.

Still, the first funding round was tough. Her parents mortgaged their house to give her $200,000 to get her company to a point where it could raise money.

“It’s hard to sleep at night when you know your parents’ retirement hinges on your business doing well,” Smith said.

Read more. >>

Ashish Rangnekar, MBA ‘11 // BenchPrep
Episode 3

Ashish Rangnekar, MBA ‘11 // BenchPrep

April 30, 2021

Ashish Rangnekar grew up in a sleepy town in India where success looked like a white-collar job, not entrepreneurship.

But early on he encountered a problem: he had few resources to prepare for college entrance exams. A decade later, when he was living in New York and planning for the GMAT, he realized test prep options were still lacking outside of lugging a big book around or attending expensive in-person classes.

It was the dawn of the Apple app store, so Rangnekar and a friend launched a mobile GMAT test prep app, priced it at $9.99 per download, and hoped some friends might sign up. In the first month, it was downloaded by more than 1,000 people in 20 different countries. Read more. >>

Jennifer Fried, MBA '15 // ExplORer Surgical
Episode 2

Jennifer Fried, MBA '15 // ExplORer Surgical

April 22, 2021

Jennifer Fried started her MBA at Chicago Booth with dreams of a career in venture capital. By the time she graduated, she had launched a healthcare tech company that helps ensure surgical procedures go smoothly — and today her product is becoming a must-have in operating rooms. Read more. >>

The Story of NVC
Episode 1

The Story of NVC

April 15, 2021

When it launched 25 years ago, the University of Chicago’s New Venture Challenge (NVC) was a pioneer in helping business school students get their startups off the ground.

Now the program is consistently ranked as the nation’s top university accelerator, with its alumni companies having raised nearly $2 billion in capital and achieved more than $8.5 billion in mergers and exits. It has expanded to include five separate tracks.

What are the secrets to its success? Read more. >>

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