Polco co-founder and CEO Nick Mastronardi says he’s thrilled his company won last night’s annual Pressure Chamber Pitch Night in Madison.

“It’s amazing,” he told WisBusiness.com after the event. “It’s really exciting for our company, an early stage company trying to tackle a big problem. We need all the help we can get and support, and that the community is behind us as we tackle these big problems is really exciting for us.”

The contest, now in its third year, gives Madison-area startups the chance to compete for a free trip to pitch to Silicon Valley investors. And this year, the so-called “golden suitcase” went to Polco, whose technology helps local governments better connect with their citizens on policy proposals.

Mastronardi, a US Air Force Reserve officer, taught economics at the U.S. Air Force Academy and was a senior economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

He also was in his first year as a senior economist at Amazon when he decided to pack up and head to to an accelerator in Texas to focus on his startup.

“It’s hard to quantify the intensity of the passion he has, the work he’s put in and what he’s given up to pursue Polco,” said Michael Ertmer, who leads the Bunker Labs @ Wisconsin program for military veteran entrepreneurs at University Research Park that Polco is a part of.

See more on Polco in a new WisBusiness.com story:

— The past two winners were Fishidy and BluDiagnostics, which both closed fundraising rounds after they presented at the competition, according to the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.

AkitaBox, whose platform helps building managers automate maintenance, planning and inspections, was the runner-up in last night’s contest. The company, which closed a $1.1 million round this spring, was co-founded by a former industry consultant who coordinated the construction of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery building.

See an earlier WisBusiness.com story on AkitaBox: