- All Community
The scene at Built In Chicago’s meet-up on Thursday, June 8, was reminiscent of new student orientation at college. Startup veterans entered 1871 armed with smiles and confidence. Newbies countered with enthusiasm and perhaps some nervousness. Combined with those who were there to meet friends and learn about the industry, the crowd quickly filled the space and thrummed with conversation and laughter that overtook the music.
Attendees ranged from high profile—like Startup America Partnership’s CEO Scott Case (pictured)—to local familiars—such as Belly CEO Logan LaHive—to those who are new to Chicago’s entrepreneurial landscape.
Case kicked off the program by addressing the crowd of over 300. “We are the heroes of the economy—the startup economy drives the economy forward,” he said. “We have 23 states around the United States who have created startup communities built on this notion of helping startups grow and Startup Illinois was the very first state.”
Case, who was also the founding CTO of Priceline, spoke to the strength of Chicago’s startup community, a sentiment echoed by many other attendees. LaHive said, “There’s probably an event every night of the week in Chicago but Built In Chicago and 1871 are leaders of the community in Chicago and it’s a great opportunity to support.”
For many, the meet-up was an opportunity see and be seen. “I genuinely enjoy seeing people from my hometown who are into digital innovation,” said Brad Spirrison, Managing Editor of Appolicious.
Derek Rast, VP of Business Development at Clear Choice Prep, a San Francisco-based company that aims to bridge the gap between educators and technology, came to get a feel of the Chicago community. “I imagine there’s not as much money [as in San Francisco],” he said, “but there is a little more humility here.” Like Los Angeles, Rast said, Chicago has a healthy tech community, one that features people looking to connect with each other for reasons beyond their own benefit.
No one was more eager to take advantage of the wealth of experience in the room than the five new startups that pitched to the crowd. Toodalu’s Todd O’Hara introduced his company’s plan to take advantage of users’ credit card purchases at select locations to raise funds for the charities they choose to support by deducting a percentage of each purchase.
Sean Story pitched Silver Step, a website that provides personal finance guidance and education to those just entering the world of wealth management. “Think of it as Yelp for financial services with an educational component.”
Pin2Sell allows anyone to sell anything on the explosively popular Pinterest easily and without signing up. “Social commerce is supposed to reach $30 million in 2015,” said founder Francois Bouyer. With Pin2Sell, he aims to tap into that growth early.
Matt Pearson, the friendly co-founder of GigFunder, a crowdfunding platform that empowers fans to bring their favorite touring artists to perform in their city, drew cheers from the crowd with his pitch. “Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter are great,” he said, “but nobody else is helping fans empowering touring like we are.”
The last pitch of the night came from Michael Westerband, the founder of WinBouts, a contest website that functions on the basis of transparency, awarding points to participants and allowing the community to select winners. For new businesses, Westerband says, promotional advertising offers the greatest marketing opportunity and that is what he hopes to build on.
Whether pitching or socializing, there was something for everyone in attendance. LaHive best captured the spirit of the night when he said, “I find more people I like here than I would at the bar.”