High Tech Coming to Highland

Squarefruit Labs of St. Louis was announced on Friday as the top winner of the 2014 Highland Gigabit Challenge business plan competition.  In addition to cash prize, the high-tech startup will receive more than $15,000 of in-kind professional services, including free office space in Highland, accounting, legal and marketing and branding services.  They will also receive one year of a Gigabit internet connection through Highland Communication services, at no charge.

Presently operating in the Cambridge Innovation Center in St. Louis, Squarefruit is headed by Chico Weber, a recent graduate of SIUE’s School of Engineering.  Weber and his team are focused on developing, implementing and deploying next generation 3-D printers.  These unique 7-axis printers will enable Squarefruit customers to integrate other materials, for example circuit boards, into the standard 3-D printing process and opens up tremendous manufacturing opportunities.

Along with Squarefruit, two web app startups were named as $5,000 runners up.  EatKidFriendly.com is a web application to help families with young children to identify and rate family oriented restaurants in the brainchild of Brandon Lance from Edwardsville.  SIUE student Wade Berner won the other $5,000 cash prize with his internet-based idea, Seated App, a mobile application that works directly with restaurant hostess to improve your eating experience and reduce waiting times. 

The competition’s “live pitch” event was held at The Korte Company in Highland (IL) in front of more than 40 attendees.  Finalists made 5 minute presentations to panel of judges and respond to the questions afterward.  The two-person panel included Ben Burke is the Director of Entrepreneurship at Arch Grants, a nonprofit, economic development organization with a mission to create an entrepreneurial culture and infrastructure to build successful companies in the St. Louis region. Burke is also the Co-Founder of Underground Angels, a group whose mission is to connect young, business-minded professionals with early stage entrepreneurs for the purpose of providing hands-on support. 

Local business leader Terry Lammers, President of Innovative Business Brokerage Group, Inc. served as the second judge.   Terry most recently spent time gaining experience in the commercial banking industry. Previously, he participated in eleven successful business acquisitions over 20 years of business ownership, gaining integral Mergers & Acquisitions experience. 

Other finalists included, Chess Research Labs, Ignition Machine, pasilobus, and Vet Check-In. 

Patrick McKeehan, director of the Illinois Metro East SBDC, was impressed by the event and the participants.  “All seven finalists were impressive,” said McKeehan.  “Today’s competition reconfirms to me that entrepreneurship and innovation in the Metro East region is starting to flourish.” 

“I anticipate our Challenge winners to be warmly welcomed and fully embraced by community,” said Lisa Peck, Economic Development & Marketing Coordinator for Highland. “Highland gives all three the opportunity to establish and grow their startups in a wonderful business community and emerging technology hub.”  

The Highland Gigabit Challenge sponsors include the City of Highland, Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center, Singleton Law Firm PC, St. Louis Regional Chamber, Highland Chamber of Commerce, Corning, Foppe Visual Communications, Scheffel Boyle, CPA, Terra Properties, Bluebird Network, TheBANK of Edwardsville, RETKO Group, Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, Oates Associates, National Telco Television Consortium, First Clover Leaf Bank, the Rotary Club of Highland, Highland Communication Services, Highland Entrepreneurship Program and Moran Economic Development.

Tags: entrepreneurship, gigabit city, Highland, Illinois Broadband

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