Willer @ the CEC: Mayor Emanuel & Innovation

November 12, 2011

Last Tuesday morning, Bob Fealy from Duchossois Group and a big supporter of the I2A fund was nice enough to invite me to Mayor Emanuel's talk at the Executives' Club breakfast.  In standard form, Mayor Emanuel walked in right on time - from the back of the Sheraton ballroom - jumped on stage and started talking about the opportunities and challenges facing Chicago in the coming year.  He talked about the work he has done so far and the many things he hopes to accomplish going forward.  The audience was about 1,000 business leaders from across industries - including top executives of big companies like Kraft, Discover, United, Chase, Microsoft, and others.  The Mayor talked about the importance of fixing our education system as well as our transportation system.  He talked about keeping the streets safe so kids can focus on their studies instead of worrying about getting shot.  Then he went into business and talked about creating the right economic conditions for those business leaders in the audience to create the new jobs we need in Chicago.  He wrapped up talking about the need for a strong entrepreneur community creating the new companies that will create the new jobs.  He talked about the success of Groupon and how we need more of these types of wins.  He talked about the need to support our early-stage high-growth startups - to a bunch of executives from our many local Fortune 500 companies.  


When we have our Mayor talking about the importance of our startup community to corporate executives, we know that we've got some social capital in Chicago now.  I see this all the time recently, everyone wants to hear about the startups, the startups are cool, can the startups come talk on my panel, etc.....  It struck me that we really have a special opportunity right now to take advantage of the interest in our startup community and drive it forward - let's grab this opportunity and run with it to create a bunch of great new companies in Chicago.


Other great events last week included the amazing Chicago Innovation Awards on Tuesday night. Congrats to Tom and Dan on their 10th anniversary of celebrating Chicago's incredible innovations across startups, big companies, and government.  I think they had something like 1500 people packed into the Harris Theater and they also launched a new book about innovation - very impressive what they've accomplished in 10 short years.  On Wednesday, I was invited by Mark Achler of RedBox to be on a panel to discuss creating an innovation culture.  What was cool to see was 200 Redbox-ers show up to listen to this panel and ask questions - it shows a commitment to innovation from the top-down starting with CEO, Gregg Kaplan - who is on the CEC Board of Directors and is an excellent mentor to some local startups like InContext Solutions.  Over the weekend, I was at events including the 50th anniversary of the Chicago Urban League's Golden Fellowship dinner and I ran into a bunch of Chicago entrepreneurs - plus the co-chair of the CEC, Jim O'Connor Jr. was the co-chair of this amazing celebration where they raised $2M.  On Friday, another of our CEC board members, Laura Ferris Anderson from JP Morgan Chase, was honored along with Chris Kennedy by the Best Buddies organization for her support and commitment to this incredible organization.  I'm so proud to have board members that also support other local non-profits.


Regarding early-stage capital for local startups, be sure to check out the Illinois Innovation Venture Fund.  This is a great commitment from the State of IL, Governor Quinn and lead by Orlando Saez of the Dept of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to support our young companies with funding that complements other investors.


Looking forward, there are some exciting events coming up like the Tribune's panel on Innovation at UIC on Tuesday night.  Also, check out SeedCon brought to us by the students at ChicagoBooth.  And a bit farther out, the CEC is hosting our 2012 Forecast event at the Chase Auditorium the morning of Wednesday, 12/14.  We have an incredible line-up of speakers that will give their predictions on Chicago's startup community in 2012!  There's never been a better time to start a company in Chicago than right now.