The founders of Page Vault, a tool for lawyers to securely capture web evidence to use in court, walked off with $26,000 as the winner of the sixth annual Northwestern University Venture Competition (NUVC) Thursday.
Upping the stakes at NUVC
NUVC awarded a total of $170,000 in cash – the most it has offered in a single year – to student startups from across Northwestern's undergraduate and professional schools. More than 70 teams applied to compete, and 22 semifinalists were chosen to pitch to a panel of angel investors, venture capitalists and faculty within one of five themed “tracks”: green energy and sustainability, life sciences and medical innovation, business products and services, social enterprise and nonprofit, or consumer products and services. Six finalists presented again in the final round.
After Page Vault, second place honors and a total of $28,000 went to Innoblative, which makes a device to help treat early-stage breast cancer. Prescription drug adherence startup MedCap received the $5,000 undergraduate prize. Cash awards also went to semifinalists FourKites, Repp, Chatting Cat, Sulfighter, Gradient, MyMenu, Better Together, myPower and MeterGenius.
In its sixth year, this was the first in which NUVC organized the competition into themed tracks, meant to demonstrate and accommodate the diversity of Northwestern’s academic disciplines, said Linda Darragh, executive director of the Kellogg Innovation Entrepreneurship Initiative, Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice and the Heizer Center for Private Equity & Venture Capital, all Kellogg-based organizations.
A greater number of investors, judges and audience members from the outside technology community attended NUVC 2014 than in past years, indicating the growing entrepreneurial energy at Northwestern and in Chicago at large, Darragh said.
“When we start building teams here at Kellogg, they have to come in with a problem, not an idea,” Darragh said. “That is a really critical difference. Too often people are coming in with an idea, and they just end up spinning wheels. By having well-defined problems seen in the marketplace and in the industry they’re building solutions, and that’s what’s making these exciting companies.”
Page Vault: a "police officer" for virtual court evidence
Page Vault is one startup that identified a problem and built a product to solve it.
Targeting lawyers, Page Vault CEO Jeffrey Eschbach and his team discovered that with the advent of social media, use of web content as evidence in court has increased by 94-fold. The problem? In traditional U.S. court cases, tangible pieces of evidence undergo a regular submission process: Lawyers enlist a trusted third party (usually a police officer) to physically store the item and, when case goes to trial in a few years, testify as to how it was obtained. For evidence captured from the Internet, though, such a process doesn’t exist, making it difficult to get web content admitted into court.
“If you think about it, [lawyers] could Photoshop anything they want,” Eschbach said during Page Vault’s final pitch, “and when the other side gets pushback, how are they going to defend it, since a lawyer can’t testify in court?”
Page Vault acts as the trusted third party – the “police officer” for virtual evidence – to store and testify for web content to use in legal proceedings.
The tool works in a few simple steps: First, the lawyer selects the web page she would like to use in court and clicks a button to activate Page Vault, which goes directly to the given web server, captures the content and securely stores it in the cloud. When the case ultimately goes to court, the lawyer can re-retrieve the evidence from Page Vault.
Eschbach said Page Vault’s NUVC winnings will accelerate product development while the company develops a more stable solution for existing beta testers, preceding a full launch at the end of the year. The team is also working to secure additional intellectual property and invest in marketing efforts.
“We’re very excited and happy that we won, but the competition was tough,” Eschbach said. “It’s a real testament to how much Northwestern has been pushing entrepreneurship, how much it’s been growing. I’ve been to these competitions before, but you can tell – the quality elevates year over year.”