When you attend a beautiful celebration — whether it’s a wedding, gala, Mitzvah party, or milestone birthday — it’s easy to forget all that went into making it seamless. If it’s done well, you enjoy yourself too much to consider those feats of work and wonder. Larger-scale events often involve coordination between a planner, caterers, entertainers, photographers, a venue, rentals, design, decor, and floral professionals. These teams are proud of their work and love to share it but are often too busy to maintain elaborate websites.
On the other side are people with upcoming celebrations looking for professionals and inspiration but coming up short in web searches. Glencoe resident Julie Roth Novack had this problem several years ago when she began planning a high-profile cancer research gala. “I spent hours online looking for ideas and venues only to find wedding blogs, sterile vendor sites, and Pinterest dead-ends,” she says. From that experience, she conceived an idea — inspired by home design site Houzz — that she ran past long-time digital agency colleague John Haro.
The two built a site that makes it easy for event professionals to showcase their work — not limited to weddings — and where people planning celebrations can view gorgeous photos linked to actual pros and venues. Novack and Haro launched PartySlate in 2015. The site makes it easy to see the potential configurations and designs for a venue you’re considering and helps you locate the pro who created that show-stopping cake or that floral wall that’s a work of art, as well as the planner who made it all happen.
To build PartySlate as a resource in the $112 billion events industry, co-founder and CEO Novack is leveraging her combined experience in executive roles and in planning more than 50 large-scale events and fundraisers. She’s also utilizing a host of Chicago resources. She says, “Chicago has a rapidly growing tech startup community, largely because of its solid support system for new entrepreneurs.”
One such group is 1871, named after the year of the Great Chicago Fire, but referencing instead the growth and creativity that came as a result of starting over. It’s a technology and entrepreneurship center that offers programming to accelerate business growth. Novack was accepted into their WiSTEM program, a 12-week curriculum that connects women to capital, community, and technology resources.
This Chicago organization, and the tech community as a whole, are working to increase the traditionally low numbers of female tech entrepreneurs. Women Tech Founders (WTF) — a group for which Novack serves as an advisor — notes that when they started in Chicago in 2015, just 3 percent of startups were women-led. Their aim has been to advance and grow female technology leadership by building an army of role models. Today, WTF says women-led startups in Chicago have risen to 30 percent. They are aiming for 50 percent within the next five years.
Novack is also utilizing the worldwide network of TechStars, a startup accelerator that she describes as a sort of boot camp for entrepreneurs. It’s a highly competitive three-month mentorship into which only 1 percent of startups are accepted. This combination of resources has helped Novack and Haro accelerate PartySlate’s growth.
PartySlate currently employs 15 and has launched in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Dallas with plans for five more cities in the next year including a New York launch with advisor Mindy Weiss in February. With 200,000 professionally shot photos from 43 states and 12 countries, the site has effectively built a bridge between event professionals and consumers. Their plan is to become the place where every event detail is proposed and discussed — a portal hosting live, interactive vision boards shared between event professionals and consumers.
Soon, you’ll also be able to find the PartySlate team on the Cooking Channel show “Cake Hunters.” They chose between three bakers on the show to create a masterpiece confection for their two-year anniversary party, held in Chicago, and featuring a performance by Broadway’s “Waitress” star Desi Oakley.
In the new year, PartySlate plans to formalize plans for a community give-back program. Novack herself maintains strong community engagement in her board roles for the Children’s Research Fund through Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and for the Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation, for which she served as chair for this year’s fundraising luncheon.
More from Make It Better:
- The Better Gift Guide
- Planning an Event? Why You Shouldn’t Sweat the Small Stuff
- Rooms With a View: Gorgeous Chicago Event Venues
Pamela Rothbard is a writer and photographer living in Glencoe, Illinois. Her work has appeared in various literary and mainstream magazines and on National Public Radio and her parenting and baking blog, Flour on the Floor, was featured in Better Homes and Gardens. Pamela has been a regular Make It Better contributor since 2013. When she’s not behind a keyboard or a camera, she’s trying new recipes and restaurants and adding another layer of clothing because she’s always cold. Pamela is also a supporter of no-kill shelters and animal rescue organizations (her favorites are PAWS Chicago and Best Friends in Utah). Find her on Twitter and Instagram @pamelarothbard.