Two Companies Win Ballston Startup Competition

Some of today’s big names in local business gathered in Ballston Wednesday night to decide who will be the big names of tomorrow.

Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, former United States Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) were among the judges for the Ballston Business Improvement District Launchpad Challenge Finale. One company was supposed to go home with $15,000 in cash, office space and furniture and free legal advice.

After hearing four presentations, the judges couldn’t narrow it down to just one, so they chose two companies — BuilDatAnalytics and Carsquare — to each go home with the grand prize.

“Both companies made a lot of sense to us,” Leonsis said after the ceremony. “We liked the teams and entrepreneurs. In horseracing, sometimes you bet the jockey and not the horse.”

BuilDatAnalytics is a business intelligence company aimed at solving inefficiencies in construction projects. Founder Tiffany Hosey Brown worked two years in construction for her family’s construction company before deciding the day-to-day operations needed radical improvement. Her company guarantees a 1 percent savings on all construction projects for its clients; considering her pilot clients’ projects cost more than $1 billion combined, she said she’s already saving them $10 million.

“It was kind of surreal, but it was exciting,” Brown said of when Leonsis called her name. She donned a hard hat during part of her presentation, and strode about the stage with confidence. When asked if there was a point during her speech if she knew she was going to win, she answered, “when [Leonsis] asked me ‘what are you going to do with the money?'”

Carsquare is billed by its founder and CEO, Khurrum Shakir, as the Kayak for cars; an aggregator of different online car shopping sites, brought together in one place. Shakir, who worked under Leonsis at AOL as a business development manager for AOL Cars, is hoping to raise $2 million in funding to fuel marketing to bring more eyeballs to his site.

“Next for us is taking it to the next level,” Shakir said afterward. “We need to finalize the app we have and integrate our new website.”

The two finalists not selected, Changecause and M2 Labs, will join BuilDatAnalytics and Carsquare next month in actual pitch meetings with Leonsis, where they will have a chance to convince one of the D.C. area’s richest people to invest in their company.

Attorney Mark Gruhin, the fourth judge on the panel and a venture investor in his own right, said each company had a strong idea, but it will take more than a 10-minute presentation in a movie theater to convince investors.

“They’re scaling right now. They have to prove their management skills,” Gruhin said. “They need to get ready for the curveballs, because they’re coming.”

There were 14 semifinalists in the field before it was narrowed to four. Before the field was narrowed down, members of the community chose Tomorrow’s Lemonade Stand — a company aimed at fostering entrepreneurship in children in grades 2-4 — for the Customer Appreciation Award. The company was founded by 7-year-old Kylee Majkowski and her mother, Amanda Antico-Majkowski, who were presented with the award on stage.

Ballston BID CEO Tina Leone announced 2014’s LaunchPad Challenge at the event, a different competition than 2013’s startup competition. Starting in January, the BID will accept applications for a new signature restaurant in Ballston. The prize will be a year of free restaurant space and the competition will be helmed by chef Mike Isabella, owner of several D.C.-area restaurants, including an upcoming eatery in Ballston.

Disclosure: Ballston BID is an advertiser

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