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Spill Inc. is off to a running start after winning first place in the Global Social Venture Competition last weekend in Berkeley, Calif., and a $25,000 prize. Founder Heidi Allstop, who started the company at UW-Madison in 2009, was still in California a week later, meeting with potential investors.

"We were pretty surprised," said vice president-business development Katie Krueger. "Of course, we really believe in Spill but we were up against really innovative solutions to world problems like hunger and homelessness."

Spillnow.com is a place where students can vent — or spill — about their stresses anonymously and get support from their peers. Mental health professionals screen all spills, too, looking for potential emergency situations.

"The vast majority are not crises at all, but there are a number of them that are either immediate crises or kind of a gray area where someone is expressing suicide (thoughts). And then the crisis center will intervene," Krueger said.

"We’ve intervened on 19 potential suicides … It makes me feel like we’re making a real difference."

Spill beat out more than 600 competitors from 50 countries, including an entry from Bangladesh to provide affordable housing; a proposal from Kenya for clean and inexpensive energy; and from Burkina Faso, a way to combat malnutrition, Krueger said.

Contestants went through regional competitions in early 2012, a round of regional semifinals, then two days of presentations before panels of judges for the 15 finalists.

Spill was the only U.S. team to make it into the final six. Entrants were judged on their company’s social impact, viability and overall likelihood of success.

"It was quite a rigorous thing," Krueger said.

Spill will use its $25,000 winnings to develop a pilot program this summer for student veterans.

"We see a lot of need for something like Spill in the veterans community," said Krueger. "It is truly a community where very few people understand what a vet is going through, other than other vets."

Spill already is accessible on 30 college campuses across the U.S. and Canada.

It’s a "virtual" company, Krueger said, but is now based in Madison, with one full-time and one part-time employee, at the Horizon co-working space, 1 S. Pinckney St., and in Boston, with three full-time employees, where it was invited to participate in the TechStars startup accelerator last year. The company raised more than $300,000 in 2011 from angel investors around the U.S.

"The problem that Spill solves, which is a growing feeling of isolation … is very serious and we recognize that," Krueger said.

She said research shows that spending so much time online, even with social media such as Facebook, is making people more depressed.

"We certainly are more connected but in our day-to-day physical lives, there’s a growing sense of isolation because of growing networking online," she said.

Krueger said the confidentiality that Spill offers sets it apart. "With Facebook, you go online to pretend to be someone you’re not. Spill is a place you can be who you really are," Krueger said.

Contact Judy Newman at jdnewman@madison.com with tips and story suggestions.

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Judy Newman is a business reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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