On Thursday evening, Stella Fayman, Rishi Kumar, Prem Panchal, Itamar Bar-Zakay, Elan Mosbacher, and Tim Jahn, members of the matchist team, hung out in the Harper Center atrium, waiting for the results of this year’s Edward L. Kaplan ’71 New Venture Challenge. After the runners-up, fourth, third, and second-place winners had been named, the matchist group smiled and quietly high-fived each other. They had won.
Matchist sounds like a matchmaking company, and indeed it makes matches, just not the romantic kind. The company matches top web and mobile developers to businesses looking for specific technical skill sets.
Matchist is the second collaboration of cofounders Stella Fayman, a first-year student, and Tim Jahn, a Chicago software developer. Their first venture, Entrepreneurs Unpluggd, an event series that helps new entrepreneurs learn from seasoned ones, sparked the idea for matchist.
“We kept getting requests from people: ‘How do you find developers?’” said CEO Fayman. “We saw this disconnect between great entrepreneurs and great developers.”
Chief technical officer Jahn agreed. “Developers have trouble finding good clients, and that good means clients with exciting work who will actually pay you. One side helps the other,” he said.
As for the name, “We wanted a dot-com and something easy to remember,” Jahn said. “We didn’t want to have to spell the name over the phone to anyone.”
Matchist already has created more than $40,000 in work for developers. First prize for the New Venture Challenge carries a cash prize of $30,000, which the company will use to forge more relationships with software firms. It also will receive a range of in-kind business services.
“We grow through partnering with software companies, and to do that, we need a lot of people out there developing relationships,” Fayman said. “We’re a small team with big ideas,” Fayman said. “Winning the NVC will help us grow more. We have a lot of ideas in our pipeline.”
Over the course of the challenge, which includes writing a business plan and working with faculty from the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, matchist showed a willingness to adapt and change, judges said. “They were receptive to suggestions,” said J.P. Fairbank, managing director, Orchard Venture Partners, Chicago, and an NVC judge.
They had a great idea, too. “I read the business plan and it jumped out at me,” Fairbank said. “This is a service that several of our companies would use.”
Fayman “is quick to listen to feedback from an advisor or a customer,” said Mark Tebbe, NVC judge, entrepreneur-in-residence at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “They have a very real niche in a developing industry. How do I find someone to do a little specialized project for me? They have an organized way to do it.”
Winners of other New Venture Challenge competition categories are:
The John Edwardson ’72 Social New Venture Challenge—Purple Binder Inc., a start-up that helps social-service agencies connect their clients with the organizational resources they need. President Joseph Flesh said the start-up will put the $35,000 prize money toward a $300,000 capital-raising round.
The Global New Venture Challenge—Intelligent Widgets, a medical-device company concentrating on treatment and diagnosis of sleep apnea. The $5000 prize money will help the company recover expenses and grow, said team member Darryl Robinson, ’13 (XP-82). Intelligent Widgets was a runner-up in the New Venture Challenge.
The first College New Venture Challenge—Freenters, a service that provides free printing for university students. It covers the cost of printing by placing banner ads in the margin of the printed documents. Founder Hyesung Kim said the start-up plans to use the $10,000 prize to expand Freenters to other Chicago-area campuses.
The Mobile App New Venture Challenge—HealthSpotr, an app that helps emergency-room patients follow their discharge plan.— Lisa Bertagnoli