ExteNet joins Chicago's fast-growing stable of billion dollar unicorns

Sam Dewey

ExteNet co-founders Ross Manire (left) and Eric Lekacz accepting a Chicago Innovation Award. 

Chicago just added another billion-dollar tech unicorn to its stable.

ExteNet Systems ExteNet Systems Visit their siteView company profile+ Create Job Alert today finalized a capital restructuring deal valued at over $1.4 billion. The deal, which was first announced in July, adds the Lisle-based wireless infrastructure provider to Chicago’s most exclusive tech club.

The acquisition was led by Florida’s Digital Bridge Holdings and New York’s Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners.

“This recapitalization is going to provide us with a lot of additional capital to continue to grow the business at a higher rate,” ExteNet CEO and President Ross Manire said. “It also puts us in a position to do acquisitions where appropriate for our business — which we really weren’t in a position to do previously. That’s the thing we find really exciting about this deal.”

Manire said liquidity was the deal's initial driver for many of ExteNet’s earliest investors, some of whom have been with the business since 2004.

ExteNet enhances wireless connectivity for indoor and outdoor users in urban, suburban, and rural areas with spotty networks or capacity issues. The company has worked on projects for both Willis and Trump Towers.

The company is building out underground platforms for the CTA that will unlock connectivity for wireless users in the tunnels on all four major networks.

Earlier this year, ExteNet won a Chicago Innovation Award for its distributed network as a service offering.

“If you look at some of the market information that’s out there today, you’ll see that people are projecting mobile data to continue to grow at a 50-plus percent compounded annual growth rate through 2020 at a minimum,” Manire said. “I think that understates the opportunity.”

He added that they’re working to stay ahead of the curve to keep up with ever-increasing throughput and demand for quality connection on mobile devices, especially for video.

“When you start talking about machine-to-machine and Internet of Things applications that will also be running on wireless networks, you’re talking about an additional traffic component that quite frankly we haven’t really defined, nor have we projected out there,” he said, adding that video traffic will account for 75 to 80 percent of traffic going over mobile networks by 2019.

ExteNet joins a small crew of Chicago-based companies with billion-dollar valuations, including Mu Sigma, Avant, and Uptake. Mu Sigma was the city's first company to nab the title of unicorn, while Avant and Uptake were welcomed to the club in September and October of this year, respectively.

And Manire, drawing attention to the city’s many accelerator and incubator programs and the state’s strong educational institutions, said it’s likely more companies — like online giftcard marketplace Raise — will soon join ExteNet in the unicorn stable.

“We get a little bit of a bad rap here in Chicago about not being a terribly supportive community for entrepreneurial development, but I think that’s old news,” Manire said. “Certainly we don’t have the cache of the coasts yet, but I think it’s coming.”

Manire said ExteNet currently has about 200 employees, 100 of whom are local.

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