Chicago media veteran wins bootstrap award at SXSW Interactive

by Andreas Rekdal
March 14, 2016

Chicago entrepreneurs take pride in doing more with less compared with their peers on either coast. So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that a Chicago company took home the Best Bootstrapped Company-award at the SXSW Accelerator pitch competition.

, whose platform helps newsrooms involve audiences in the reporting process, was a finalist in the competition’s Entertainment and Content Technologies-category. And while they didn't win in that category, they instead received the Bootstrapped award for the company that has “done the most with the least” out of the competition’s 48 finalists.

“The competition that we were in was announced, and I was very sure we weren’t going to win, because the other companies that we were up against were already making millions of dollars, and are a little more candy than broccoli,” said CEO Jennifer Brandel. “You know — we’re talking about journalism, which people know is important, but it’s less exciting than some of the other, entertainment-y kinds of things out there.”

Brandel and co-founder Corey Haines wanted to stretch their money further, rather than go to investors for more of it — something that she attributes to the company’s Midwestern roots.

“It feels like a very Chicago approach,” she said.

Though pleased with the feedback her company has received at SXSW, Brandel has been disappointed with the conference’s lack of diversity.

“I know women are underrepresented in general — but there are just hardly any of us there, so it’s another reminder of how important it is to support female founders,” said Brandel. “It still feels way too lopsided for this day and age.”

Hearken’s award was just one of several Chicago success stories from Austin this weekend:

, which uses machine learning to help drivers find open parking spots, won in the competition’s Enterprise and Smart Data-category.

On the social impact side,

-founder Emile Cambry was awarded the Dewey Winburne Community Service Award. And Riviter — a fashion tech startup that helps e-commerce sites tailor their customers’ shopping experience in accordance with the preferences they show on social media — won the annual #PitchAustin MBA Pitch Competition on Saturday.

See below for more photos from this weekend’s award ceremonies.

Image via Hearken.

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