Braintree among several Chicago Booth-tied businesses snapped up over past year

Six student-designed companies acquired, two merge to expand reach

Ethan Grove
Associate Director of CommunicationsUniversity of Chicago Booth School of Business

It has been a big year for start-ups with ties to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Eight student businesses built and developed with guidance and resources from Chicago Booth’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation have been involved in mergers and acquisitions this year, the most recent of which was last September’s $800 million acquisition of Braintree by PayPal.

On Sept. 26, eBay, the parent company of PayPal, announced it was acquiring Braintree, which helps process mobile payments. Founded by Booth alumnus Bryan Johnson, ’07, Braintree was the winner of the Polsky Center’s 2007 Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, the premier start-up program at Chicago Booth that helps students turn entrepreneurial ideas into viable businesses.

“Our rigorous analytical and iterative process helps the students create viable business models,” says Ellen Rudnick, executive director of the Polsky Center and clinical professor of entrepreneurship at Chicago Booth. “The process, coupled with our strong network of resources, is truly valuable to these aspiring entrepreneurs.”

Other New Venture Challenge winners and Booth start-ups involved in mergers or acquisitions over the past year include the following:

  • GrubHub, founded by Matt Maloney, ’10, won the New Venture Challenge in 2006 and merged with Seamless to become GrubHub Seamless, the nation’s leading online and mobile food-ordering company, on Aug. 9 of this year;
  • Bump Technologies, won the 2009 New Venture Challenge for their idea to easily send info between mobile devices by bumping them together, acquired by Google on Sept. 16;
  • Gen110, which sells onsite solar electricity to homeowners at lower rates than conventional utility companies, was founded by Jason Brown, '09 and Jasper Platz, ’09, and was acquired by Solar Universe on Sept. 26 of this year;  
  • SoCore Energy, which finished in third place in 2008, grew to become the solar portfolio development and commercial rooftop installation leader and was acquired by Edison International on Aug. 5;
  • ProOnGo, a digital accounting technology company and a 2008 finalist founded by Phil Leslie, ’09, was acquired by The Neat Company on October 3;
  • Power2Switch, which allows consumers and businesses to select their electricity provider in deregulated states was founded by Seyi Fabode, ’10, and Phil Nevels, ’09 and acquired by Choose Energy on Sept. 26;
  • Kip Solutions, a social media start-up, which was taken through Polsky’s Accelerator Program in 2012, was acquired by Post & Beam on Feb. 16;
  • Flutter, a Y Combinator-backed start-up that focuses on gesture recognition technology, was acquired by Google on October 3;
  • Bolder Thinking, which finished in a tie for third place in 2010 and is a leader in the cloud telephony and contact center space, was acquired in October 2012;
  • brightroom, which placed second in the New Venture Challenge in 2000, was merged into MarathonFoto and Event Photograph Group, Inc., in Oct. 2012.

“The Polsky Center provides a unique and extremely productive process for creating successful businesses,” said Professor Steven Kaplan, Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance and founding faculty member of the New Venture Challenge class.

The process starts with the vetting of the idea. Students then work to develop a business model by giving presentations, getting feedback, and making adjustments as they work toward launching viable and potentially profitable start-ups, according to Kaplan.

“The new venture challenge begins with our terrific students. We systematically introduce the students to our network of mentors. We establish tight deadlines that create a sense of urgency and it pays off.”