This year's honorees exemplify how startup founders are driving business forward and setting their organizations up for success.
Local Entrepreneurs Receive $150K Google Grants for Tech Startups
Google grants $150K to Chicago Black- and Latino-founded tech startups. These entrepreneurs share their journey and advice for aspiring startup founders.
Starting a business from scratch takes a lot of work — not to mention capital. A startup initiative from Google is helping Black and Latino entrepreneurs reach their goals. This year, five Chicagoans were awarded $150,000 each for their startups.
The winners include Certiverse, an online exam development system; Speeko, a speech coach app powered by AI technology that helps people with public speaking; and GuardianVets, a virtual database that allows customers to ask veterinary professionals health-related questions about pets.
“Speeko is an AI speech coach,” said Nico Aguilar, CEO and founder of Speeko. “You can use it by downloading our app and recording your voice to get feedback on things like your filler words or your pausing patterns.
The idea of developing his app came from his own fear of public speaking.
“My journey is wild,” Aguilar said. “Just a couple of years ago I was so afraid of public speaking that there was no way you would see me at a table. Now I’m running the most popular and powerful speech coaching tool. But the confession I have to make is that I’m still so nervous for public speaking.”
Certiverse co-founder Ruben Garcia said the Google grant is a game-changer. His company benefits people wanting to enhance different skills.
“We have won a lot of awards,” Garcia said, “but those awards are not backed up with capital. For us, it’s really going to accelerate the development of our product.”
Garcia isn’t new to entrepreneurship; he developed another company and later sold it.
“This is my second startup,” Garcia said. “I really wanted to create competition on the exam side. I’ve been impacted by certification exams. That’s how I got myself through college at Loyola University. I had a passion to bring those exams to more people.”
John Dillon said winning the Google grant would only help his tech company, GuardianVets, grow.
“It was incredible,” Dillon said. “We found out we won at that event with the mayor, and we were so surprised and really grateful for that.”
GuardianVets operates 24/7 in more than 47 states for a variety of veterinary hospitals across the U.S.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs,” Dillon said. “Anyone that’s part of a startup is a roller coaster. But it’s also a rewarding journey, and we’re grateful to have the opportunity to do it.”
It’s no surprise that Latino businesses have increased over the years. According to the Small Business Administration, nearly one in four new businesses is Hispanic-owned. In the decade preceding the pandemic, the number of Latino business owners increased by 34%.
Taking risks and making mistakes is something all three entrepreneurs share when developing their tech companies.
“Go for it,” Garcia said of launching a startup. “Be ready to make a lot of mistakes. The thing about startups is you fail a lot and turn around and get back on your feet and go forward.”