Why Sente is bringing growing international startups to Chicago

December 14, 2016

Chicago is a great city for tech, but not everyone knows that. Especially internationally, the advantages of bringing your business to Chicago isn’t always obvious. But Sente is working with overseas companies to start their global expansion here in the Windy City.

“To become a global company you have to have a presence in the U.S.,” said founder Serhat Cicekoglu. “We believe that Chicago is the best place to do that.”

Based out of 1871, Sente offers an accelerator program for companies in emerging ecosystems looking to make it big internationally. The company brings together cohorts in places like Turkey and Finland, offers them training to focus their companies, then brings them to Chicago to meet with investors, potential customers and other industry insiders that can help them be successful as an international company.

The firm has brought 45 companies to the U.S. since starting in 2013, and 42 of those are still in business, according to Cicekoglu. With a focus on companies in the smart city, industrial IoT, healthcare and core B2B technology industries, Chicago is an obvious expansion point for many of these companies. But they often still need some work before coming stateside.

One thing that many companies in emerging ecosystems lack is a tight focus. In smaller cities, companies can do more, since bigger players haven’t tapped into the system yet. But they don’t provide a good base for global growth.

“These may not be emerging economies, but they have emerging ecosystems that lack some of the infrastructure found in Chicago,” Cicekoglu said.

But to see global growth, these startups need to pick a product to focus on so they can pierce the market. That’s why the first six weeks of all Sente programs are spent in the startup’s home country, getting training, honing a pitch and figuring out who to talk to before heading stateside.

Once they arrive in Chicago, it’s time to test their commercial hypothesis. For a lot of startups, it’s a chance to build up a pipeline of customers and meet investors who can provide vital feedback.

Sente has seen some pretty big successes, and even drawn companies to expand with their U.S. headquarters in Chicago. Personal cloud provider Monument is here, as well as LA Software Group. Chicago has proven to be a successful spot for growing startups to go global for a number of reasons.

“With the industries we have in the Chicago area, it makes sense,” said COO Gerod Carfantan. “Companies like Caterpillar and Bosch want to develop partnerships with international entrepreneurs.”

The accelerator also has a wealth of mentors that can help growing companies hone in on target customers and connections with businesses to mine for sales and advice. Chicago’s growth overall is attractive as well, with people turning to the midwestern city as a place to grow without the costs of San Francisco or New York City. But it also has older, established companies that provide stability and plenty of well trained applicants for a growing startup.

“We are lucky to be in the ecosystem,” Cicekoglu said. “We talk about it everywhere we go.”

In the future, Cicekoglu and Carfantan said they plan to turn the idea on its head, using their connections in international markets to bring Chicago startups overseas. But for now, the company is focused on helping its current Finnish cohort succeed in the states.

Image via Sente

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