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Naperville-area startups enter pitch competition.

Byline: Lauren Rohr

Owners of three Naperville-area startups will compete for a cash prize this month in a program aimed at helping to develop small businesses.

Similar to the ABC show "Shark Tank," the local entrepreneurs will pitch their business plans May 11 to a panel of judges consisting of business professionals and investors. The winner of the second annual event will receive $3,300 and a one-year membership to the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce.

The business plan and pitch competition encompasses the workshops, mentorship and resources offered by NaperLaunch, a small business center at Naperville Public Library, said business librarian Kent Palmer, who serves as the program's facilitator.

The process requires participants to meet with library staff members, learn about business planning resources, meet deadlines and write a formal business plan, he said. The pool of applicants is then narrowed to eight semifinalists, who have to make an initial pitch in front of volunteer mentors.

"It gives them some motivation or impetus to stick to it," Palmer said. "They came to us for advice and guidance on how to write the plan and what sorts of things to cover. So there's a lot of mentoring that goes on."

Three top entrepreneurs are then selected to participate in the final pitch competition, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. May 11 at Nichols Library, 200 W. Jefferson Ave.

This year's finalists include Dapo Kolawole, co-founder and CEO of Citispoon, a hospitality mobile app and beacon tech company; Pankaj Parashar, co-founder of Purple Ant, a platform for helping property insurers increase retention and risk mitigation; and Teresa Puskar, owner of Dragon Soup Theatre Training and Productions, which offers storytelling and stage training programs for kids and teens.

Each entrepreneur has his or her own plan for what to do with the prize money if they win. While Kolawole intends to reinvest the money into a marketing campaign to drive app users, Parashar said he plans to participate in key industry events outside Chicago to promote his business. Puskar says she'll purchase materials to make costumes, pay rent at a rehearsal and performance venue, and fund marketing and administrative fees.

The two finalists who don't win will receive a $100 discount on chamber membership.

When Nassim Abdi, CEO and co-founder of Docademia, won the inaugural event last year, she put the prize money toward developing a program that attracted more investors, Palmer said. He hopes this year's winner will experience similar success.

"It's nice to see somebody come and apply themselves and learn some things and put it in their plan, and then take the cash they receive from us and go make their business succeed," he said. "It's very gratifying."

Judges of the final pitches include chamber President Nicki Anderson,; Madhur Limdi, founder of Naperville-based Netra Technologies; and Barbara Piesz of Naperville Bank & Trust.

The competition is the last event of NaperLaunch's seventh annual Small Business Week. Programs throughout the week include a keynote address from Spikeball COO Scott Palmer, an Instagram marketing workshop and sessions on cybersecurity and e-commerce.

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Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:May 2, 2019
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