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Chicago neighborhoods represented in national start-up competition

Malcolm and Marcus Howard (from left), founders of ProjectMQ; Adero Knott, founder of The AK Creator I; Lyndon Jackson, founder of Panacea; Vittorio Watson, founder of FAMin; and Ayinde Arnett, founder of UpNext Music, were all awarded $,500 as winners of the Neighborhood Start Fund Pitch Competition on Saturday. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

Lyndon Jackson, 23, grew up in Chatham with a single mother of two kids. She relied on food stamps to feed them, Jackson said, and he will always remember the time she lost her SNAP card.

“I’ll never forget the image of her looking inside of a bare fridge and hearing the sound of my empty stomach growling,” Jackson said. “From that day forward, I wanted to make sure that I never went hungry again, but nobody else would either.”

Jackson is one step closer to achieving that goal after winning $5,000 for his start-up company, Panacea, a payment system and mobile app allowing food stamp recipients to purchase food using their smartphones.

Jackson, along with four other entrepreneurs, was awarded $5,000 Saturday by the Neighborhood Start Fund, a neighborhood-based kickstarter fund, during its second-annual NSF Pitch Competition.

“This feels amazing. It’s validating to know that these professionals see something in my idea that’s worth backing,” he said. “I know I’m onto something.”


Adero Knott, of Hyde Park, founder of start-up The AK Creator I and winner of the NSF Pitch Competition. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

Nineteen competition finalists were selected to pitch their entrepreneurial ideas to a panel of judges Saturday at the Blue 1647 Tech Innovation Center in Pilsen.

But only the strongest presentations were selected by the judges, who included rapper Wasalu Jaco (known as Lupe Fiasco), Di-Ann Eisner of Google Waze and other entrepreneurial professionals.

Alex Israel, co-founder of parking data company ParkMe and host of the competition, said judges were looking for “ideas that can accomplish $100 million.”

“What’s important is that the company addresses a problem and can be impactful not only in the community, but across the globe,” Israel said.

One local start-up from Englewood pitched “Excuse Me Officer,” a website and mobile app that would allow citizens to rate and review their interactions with police. Another pair from Chicago proposed a plan to make its healthy, multi-flavor hot sauce brand, The Hot Sauced Boss, go big.

“The goal is to get some of that money in Silicon Valley spread more equitably around the country,” Eisner said.


Lyndon Jackson, from the Chatham neighborhood, won the NSF Pitch Competition with his start-up Panacea. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

Adero Knott, a 25-year-old entrepreneur from Hyde Park, won with her proposal for “The AK Creator I,” a vending machine of prosthetic limbs to increase accessibility to prosthetic devices. She said her idea was inspired by her own experiences living with one hand.

“I believe that the AK Creator can give life to millions of people across the world,” she said. “I’m proud to have been the only woman up there, and I’m a black woman.”

Twenty-six-year-old Ayinde Arnett, of Hyde Park, won with his idea for UpNext Music, a mobile game in which users create their own record label to discover new artists and gain points based on those artists’ real-life successes.

“I had no expectation of winning, but I got good feedback form the judges and the audience, so I know I have a great idea here,” Arnett said.

Other winners included Vittorio Wattson of Brooklyn, New York, for his start-up, FAMin, a social media-based platform to help non-traditional families with parenting, and Marcus Howard of Georgia for ProjectMQ, a start-up online community for indie game studios and fans.