By Mark Tebbe, Chair, and Alya Woods, Director, ChicagoNEXT, World Business Chicago

 

On April 21st venture investors and key players in the Midwest’s tech scene came together for the 2016 Chicago Venture Summit, produced by ChicagoNEXT, an initiative of World Business Chicago. The first Chicago Venture Summit was held in 2014 with a goal of drawing national attention to Chicago’s entrepreneurial and investor community, highlighting the talent that is developing in the Midwest. The success of the 2014 Summit was evident as alumni raised over $220M, with 23 of the 30 participating startups receiving investment.

This comes as no surprise as the Illinois Venture Capital Association, in collaboration with Pitchbook, reports a steady increase in venture capital funding in Chicago, Illinois and the Great Lakes over the past decade. The report shows that VC activity in the Great Lakes region was at an all-time high in 2014, with by the most dollars invested yet in 2015 (although activity took a small dip). Illinois and Chicago carry a significant amount of the Great Lakes VC activity. The Chicago Venture Summit aimed to capture this interest and attract new investors to both Chicago and the Midwest area.  

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The 2016 Chicago Venture Summit hosted over 400 attendees including over 150 venture firms in attendance, 30% of which were from outside the Midwest, all together representing over $20B in capital.  

This year, the Summit spotlighted what makes the region’s tech ecosystem unique, and how its leaders are committed to fostering innovation and talent. Key themes of the day included the unique qualities of our successful local entrepreneurs, the important role our powerhouse universities play in fostering innovation and entrepreneurship, the significance of our large and diverse industry base, and the role that family-run investment offices and other forms of “quiet capital” can play in the investment community. The nearly 50 speakers, panelists, presenters and moderators made clear the distinct and valuable characteristics of Chicago, Illinois and the Midwest demonstrating the supportive network, diverse economy, and excitement around growing the tech ecosystem. The Venture Summit also provided an opportunity for the community’s most committed partners to introduce some of the early stage startups they are helping to support.  

Beyond the programming, the Summit also provided an opportunity for many of our community’s most important players to reconnect. The buzz of networking conversation was evident throughout the day in the new Google office at 1K West Fulton – itself a significant proof point of the increased national awareness of Chicago as a hub for technology companies – as VCs and entrepreneurs occupied each nook and bean bag chair available to exchange ideas, introduce businesses and discuss the startup environment in the Midwest. This wasn’t just the start of a conversation, but a humming continuation of one.

Some of the most important takeaways from the summit focused around the distinct characteristics of the Midwest: the grounded culture, loyalty and support of our ecosystem has allowed technology companies to build sustainably, with a strong B2B focus, established customer base and opportunities for growth. The focus on innovation and talent has inspired diverse technologies beyond digital – including hardware, healthcare, and IoT – to thrive, in large part due to our academic strengths. The community is committed to continuing to build, recognizing that it’s made transformative advances in the last ten years, while looking forward to what the next ten have in store.

As a strategic initiative of Mayor Emanuel’s Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs, ChicagoNEXT focuses on driving growth in Chicago’s tech economy by 1) increasing access to capital for early-stage startups; 2) expanding the STEM talent pipeline, and 3) connecting resources and opportunities in our most innovative industries. While the Chicago Venture Summit most explicitly aims to fulfill the first strategy, talent and industry connections were equally in play at this year’s event.

We look forward to hosting the 2017 Chicago Venture Summit next fall and continue to be inspired by the strength of Chicago’s, Illinois’, and the Midwest’s commitment to innovation.


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