Published on August 7, 2011

This post was previously on the Pathfinder Software site. Pathfinder Software changed its name to Orthogonal in 2016. Read more.

SPARK Chicago is a new startup competition unveiled during Techweek, the Lollapalooza of tech startup conferences. SPARK follows Startup Weekend with an intensive 3-day acceleration that matched three finalists from the weekend with three Chicago software development firms, Orthogonal, Obtiva, and Doejo.

At the end of the three-day acceleration, the three companies presented their work to a panel of VCs and successful tech startup executives, who voted our incubatee Code Mountain as the winner and gave them a cool $100,000 in cash and prizes.

Code Mountain came to us with a great concept and a great team, and over the three days we paired our developers, designers, marketers and strategists with them to refine their product and their business model.

Over those three days, they were literally living in our office, staying over night, taking showers in the morning (it helps to have showers in the office), and moving at lightning speed. Together we did customer interviews, refined and built their minimum viable product, explored their customer acquisition strategy and product evolution, and even got letters of intent from a number of companies.

They’re at an early stage, with a lot of customer development yet to do, but we definitely think they’re on to something. Here’s their current pitch:

A lot of non programmers dream of building software to make ideas a reality, but most don’t even know where to begin. There’s a mountain of resources out there, but no clear path and no good way of knowing if you’re making progress. No wonder people give up hope. Code mountain gives structure and direction to those resources, feedback on your progress, and the support of a community that’s on the same climb, so you can stay motivated and keep climbing. So stop dreaming and start building.

Code Mountain is a great group to work with: They’re super passionate and organized, they have great leadership from two Northwestern University student body presidents, they have marketing, design and development talent, they learn fast and they know how to work together as a team.

They seem to like working with us as well. Here’s what Code Mountain founder Neal Sales-Griffin had to say about us:

Working with Pathfinder was the best thing that could’ve happened to us during SPARK Chicago. We learned more from Pathfinder in 3 days than I think most do in a year of running a startup. If there’s one thing we’ve taken away from working with them, it’s the importance of customer validation. On top of all of this, Pathfinder gave us more than their full attention, time and support. They also have a pretty awesome office space.

We were so impressed with Neal Sales-Griffin, Mike McGee and the rest of the Code Mountain team that we invited them to keep incubating with us over the next few months as they get their startup up and running. They’ve been in here every day working with us, launching their first project, Code Academy, and continuing customer discovery for the Code Mountain platform. Stay tuned for more updates.

Thanks to Code Mountain member Justin Love for some of the photos. Check out his description of the whole competition at Wondible.com