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LaunchPad: Two Startups Win Cash, Office Space in Ballston Challenge

Check out the Leesburg connection.

Khurrum Shakir, founder of CarSquare, makes his pitch to the judges at the Ballston LaunchPad Challenge on Wednesday. Photo by Jason Spencer
Khurrum Shakir, founder of CarSquare, makes his pitch to the judges at the Ballston LaunchPad Challenge on Wednesday. Photo by Jason Spencer

By Jason Spencer

Move over, Shark Tank — Ballston's got plenty of big fish of its own.

The year-long Ballston LaunchPad Challenge started with more than 225 entrepreneurs and startups and ended with not one, but two winners Wednesday night on a stage in a Regal Ballston Common 12 theater.

The Ballston Business Improvement District's LaunchPad Challenge began in January. In June, 14 semi-finalists were announced. Those 14 were eventually pared down to three finalists plus a fan-favorite, which won more than 3,000 votes online.

Those four got to pitch their business to an all-star panel of judges Wednesday night, including Washington Capitals owner and renowned investor Ted Leonsis.

"Silicon Valley doesn't have a monopoly on great ideas," Tiffany Hosey Brown, founder of BuilDatAnalytics, which collects business intelligence for the construction industry, told Patch. "And if you have the proper support, you can do great things."

Brown and the team from CarSquare — formerly iGrabber, a platform that wants to be to cars what Kayak is to travel andIndeed is to jobs — each walked away Wednesday night with $15,000, office space and furniture in Ballston and legal assistance from Saul Ewing LLP.

"Being a bootstrap startup is the most difficult thing we've done. You can't call in sick. And there's no pay," Khurrum Shakir, founder of CarSquare, said in his pitch. "But we know we're driving in the right direction."

Leonsis told Patch that judges were most impressed with the business plans of those two startups. "There was meat there," he said.

Brown, an Oakton woman, wore a hard hat for part of her pitch, while she talked about working in construction and all of the inefficiencies in the industry. She's ultimately seeking $2.5 million to grow her company and keep up with all of the interest in it. In recent weeks, she said she's been contacted by businesses in Qatar, Dubai, Jordan and South Africa that want to use her software platform.

Shakir, of Leesburg, and the CarSquare team handed out T-shirts to the judges and a couple of audience members. They're working with Microsoft and a number of online sites that sell vehicles and are seeking $2 million to take their businesses to the next level. Much of the money is budgeted for marketing.

The third finalist Wednesday night was Changecause, a service that pairs business sponsors with charities to match donations, and the fan favorite was M2 Labs, a mobile phone payment platform that would be designed to save small- and mid-sized businesses money on debit and credit card transaction fees.

Leonsis told all four teams that they could pitch to him personally early next year.

"It's intrinsically American to be independent and want to innovate and know that most companies fail, but you don't care — you just go for it," Leonsis told Patch. "It's great to see that energy, that passion."

Leonsis was one of four judges at the LaunchPad finale. He was joined by former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly and Mark Gruhin, co-managing partner of Saul Ewing in Washington.

Leonsis said the judges couldn't agree on a single winner, and so they picked two. He volunteered to write the second $15,000 check himself, organizers said.

Chopra told Patch that was exactly the kind of ethos Ballston needed to produce a culture that would foster even more opportunities.

"I love the burgeoning ecosystem," he said. "Most of what makes Silicon Valley thrive is the great support networks… because good ideas don't thrive in a vacuum."

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