Celebrating Evanston Entrepreneurship Week!

Fans of ‘Shark Tank’ would have felt right at home at the Evanston Startup Showcase presentation on Tuesday evening, part of Evanston Entrepreneurship Week. Five startup businesses presented their concepts to a panel of four successful entrepreneurs and an audience of about one hundred potential investors, friends and interested parties. Everyone involved has a connection to Evanston, either as a resident or because their businesses are here.

The moderator for the night was Patrick Hughes, a successful entrepreneur and the Founder/CEO of Inclusion=Solutions, an Evanston-based business whose mission is to develop and supply practical products to make inclusion possible for people with disabilities or the elderly. Patrick’s outgoing personality, quick humor and take charge attitude kept the presentations on schedule without ever getting tedious.

The ground rules were straightforward: 5 minutes for the pitch, 5 minutes of Q&A from the panel, 5 minutes of audience Q&A. The five lucky presenters were selected from nearly 100 submissions.

First up was Jono Kupferberg, CEO/Co-Founder of STS Footwear, a company founded on the belief that every fan needs a footwear option. Jono showcased many creative iterations designed by Director of Design/Co-Founder Isaiah Smith, and the two men discussed their patent-pending manufacturing concept. They need $50,000 to fund their initial launch. The panel asked a lot of questions about their market research, licensing agreements, pricing and other metrics. In the world of branded products and sports-related wearables, STS Footwear may have something unique. They hope to authorize their first production run by mid 2015.

The second presentation was by Brian Hill, Co-Founder of Jail Education Solutions. Of the five presentations, this was the one I found most captivating. Using customized tablet technology and an educational platform called Edovo, they provide intuitive educational courses to incarcerated people who are rewarded for learning. Jail Education Solution’s mission is to unlock the potential of the 12 million Americans imprisoned annually and reduce rates of recidivism. Their tablet system is already being tested in six institutions; others are signing up each month. It’s an amazing feat thus far and they are just getting started. I think we will hear great things about this company.

The third presentation was a needs-based app called DINE., conceived by three 19-year old Northwestern University students (Luke, McKenna and Garrett) who want to create a better algorithm for restaurant selection tailored to the diner’s specific needs. The app, still in development, will propose three choices to ease selection rather than present unfiltered information in the style of Yelp and Zagat’s. The panel of experts enthused over the presentation, which was impressive, but even more so given the presenters’ ages.

Fourth up was Jennifer Alexander from Chapín Coffee. Their motto is ‘Fuel your day with purpose,’ and for every bag of Chapín Coffee sold, three meals are donated to malnourished Guatemalan children through Feed the Dream. Chapín Coffee sustains local farmers by purchasing only Fair Trade Certified coffee, protects the environment by sourcing organically grown coffee, and helps local women artisans maintain their craft skills by purchasing woven gift bags. Jennifer is a great presenter and the audience responded positively with ideas and contacts. For those of you looking for lovely holiday gifts, look no further than a Chapín Coffee Subscription.

The final presentation was the most fun and the one that generated the most audience involvement. Kenny Johnson, the inventor of patent-pending Funny Gloves, is Evanston-born and raised, a proud graduate of ETHS and a vocal promoter of everything the city has to offer. He has created a toy—think of a large pair of talking puppets used by two people to play catch together—that gets kids out of the house to exercise. Anyone over the age of about three years old can play and one size fits most. Kenny is an effervescent presenter: he’s already pitched the idea to the actual Shark Tank folks and is waiting to hear if he’s been selected. Just based on his story and pitch, I think Kenny is well on his way to reaching his goals. He’s created something new and has the passion and drive to do whatever it takes to see it through. The gloves are available online for $25 a pair.

Kudos to the presenters and panelists, the moderator, Rotary International for hosting and First Bank & Trust for sponsoring, the City of Evanston and Northwestern University for their support. It was a wonderful and interesting evening, and hopefully part of an annual tradition.

Love in the Afternoon

Yesterday I took advantage of the sunshine and explored a well-traveled bike route. Biking along the lakefront from Clark Square Park to Northwestern, I traveled through campus to the lakefront path, past the soccer fields and fraternity houses, north on Sheridan Road to Sheridan Place, then south on Ridge. On the northern grounds of Evanston Hospital I found a plaque marking the location of an ancient Indian village and chipping station (a place where arrowheads and tools were made). From there I continued west on Central Street to Greenbay and McCormick where another bike path begins.

The trail greets passersby with a large silver sculpture followed by a short patch leading up to the Evanston Ecology Center and 23-acre Ladd Arboretum. After Bridge Street the path becomes the North Shore Channel Trail. Along this path and within the arboretum lies the Rotary Club of Evanston International Friendship Garden (designed to mimic the Rotary Club logo), flags of many countries (representing the ethnic diversity of Skokie) and the Jacqueline Gorell Park, named in honor of the first female mayor of Skokie. At Dempster Street, the first of four half-mile segments of the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park begins, which continues down McCormick Boulevard to Touhy Avenue in Chicago. I rode as far as Oakton Street before circling back to head home.

The sculpture park is visually interesting from a car, but absolutely fascinating when exploring by foot or by bicycle. Many of the sculptures include QR codes to connect the viewer to information about the sculptor; there is also a self-guided walking tour and booklet with information about each artist and the thoughts behind each work. Many are permanent installations.

The Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park sponsors a biennial competition, the Lewis C. Weinberg Competition, open to interested artists. Applications for the 2015 contest are due before July 1, 2015.

 

 

Why Vote?

I believe in the importance of voting. It is a civic duty and a form of self-expression I cherish, especially as I see others in our country being denied the right because of onerous restrictions and overtly partisan reactions to suggestions of voter fraud. I wish more people voted rather than shrugging with frustration and not taking advantage of this special privilege. It is easy to be apathetic; it takes effort to try and make a difference.

Two weeks ago I took advantage of early voting and cast my ballot in the Evanston Civic Center. There were no lines and the room with the ballot machines was bright, almost cheerful. It wasn’t crowded, but there were plenty of people coming in and out while I was there. I lingered in the hallway to admire photos of some inspiring young faces. 2014-10-24 12.14.33

 

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In the lobby there is a magnificent statue of an eagle donated by Marjorie and Charles Benton, ‘in honor of the city we love and have lived in for 60 years.’

Share the love; please vote.