Chicago incubator hopes to SPARK startups

May 25, 2011

Think you can form a technology company from scratch in just a week? That’s the idea behind SPARK, a new incubator program launched by a group of Chicago-area entrepreneurs.

The program is aimed at seeding viable ideas for Web-based and mobile applications during an upcoming startup competition that runs from July 22 to 27 in the Windy City.

“SPARK is about doing, not talking,” said 29-year-old Maliha Mustafa, a former investment banker turned entrepreneur and SPARK co-founder. “What we’d like to do is actually execute.”

Toward that end, Mustafa and her fellow co-founders, including Seth Kravitz – who started a Web design company from his dorm room at Ohio State that later grew into a 55-person operation – are winnowing down contest applications to 60 participants.

During the six-day competition, the chosen candidates will form teams, decide on business models, build working prototypes and present their elevator pitches in front of angel investors and venture capitalists.

“What makes an organization, what makes a startup successful? We want to give them every fighting chance,” said Mustafa, noting there is no entry fee.

In the end, three final teams will face off, with the winner receiving a cash grant of $10,000 or more. The fledgling companies will also receive donated mentorship services in marketing and development.

Open to the public, the SPARK Chicago competition is designed to inspire other would-be entrepreneurs to get their game face on, Mustafa said.

“This may be relevant to that friend of yours that has the potential to be the next Groupon, but just needs a gentle push and the right support,” she added.

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