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Speakeasy wins i.e.* competition

Speakeasy wins i.e.* competition

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A business born in a weekend was named Richmond's most promising new startup Tuesday.

Speakeasy, a mobile phone application designed to help restaurants get better feedback from customers, is the winner of the Greater Richmond Chamber’s second annual i.e.* startup competition.

The business began last fall in a weekend-long planning session that was part of the inaugural RVA Startup Weekend. The company is run by Jon Davidow, Joey Figaro, Rob Forrest and Jacques Fuentes.

Speakeasy will launch its fully completed mobile app in the next week with a local restaurant group, Davidow said. The business already works with several other local restaurants.

"Now the focus is on getting traction in the market," he said.

Karen Booth Adams, CEO of investment group Hot Technology Holdings and a judge in the competition, said she and other judges liked the company's potential to grow quickly and reach a national customer base.

"They also have huge additional revenue streams that they could develop from the data they are capturing from customers," Adams said.

Marti Beller, another judge and CEO of PlanG, a site that helps people manage their charitable donations, said Speakeasy will benefit from demand by both restaurants and customers.

Speakeasy, she said, improves on existing restaurant review sites including Yelp.

"They've kept the good things of Yelp and ditched aspects people don't like as much," Beller said.

Speakeasy receives $10,000 from the accounting firm of Cherry Bekaert LLP and $3,500 of information technology strategy and implementation services from Imagine Simplicity.

The winner also receives a $500 gift certificate from furniture retailer LaDifference toward the purchase of office furniture and six months of free office space and mentoring from New Richmond Ventures.

DragonGrips was the winner of the People's Choice Award, chosen by an audience vote after all finalists had given their presentations. The company receives $2,500 from First Capital Bank.

DragonGrips was started by VCU Brandcenter students Sam Cantor, Nicholas Marx and Hunter Pechin. They are developing a small generator that captures energy created by pedaling a bicycle and uses that energy to warm the bike's handlebars.

All finalists received a free six-month membership to 804RVA, a co-working space in Richmond.

The startup contest was the crowning event in i.e.*'s second entrepreneurial trilogy.

The first event of the trilogy focused on intellectual property and patent issues facing small businesses. The second featured a panel discussed local resources for small businesses that ranged from an accelerator program to investment groups.

Tumblr, the popular blogging platform operator that has an office in Richmond, sponsored the startup competition along with Evergreen Enterprises, the Richmond-based home decor manufacturer and distributor.

Richmond-based packaging giant MeadWestvaco sponsored the full trilogy.

Jacob Geiger is director of Work It, Richmond. He can be reached at or (804) 649-6874.

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