What city boasts the great­est con­cen­tra­tion of women startup founders? Chicago

The na­tion’s third-largest city boasts the great­est con­cen­tra­tion of women founders.

Inc. (USA) - - CONTENTS - By Zoë Henry


Leg­endary in­cu­ba­tor 1871 is in the historic Mer­chan­dise Mart build­ing in the River North nabe; around it is clus­tered the city’s “big­gest con­cen­tra­tion of startup ac­tiv­ity,” says Julie Roth No­vack.

1 She co-founded event-plan­ner plat­form Par­tySlate, which is based there, as are per­son­al­ized cloth­ier Trunk Club, Groupon, and park­ing app SpotHero.

West Loop— famed for world-class restau­rants such as Avec 2 —is “re­ally hot,” says Jen­nifer Fried, 3 co-founder of medtech firm

Ex­plORer Sur­gi­cal. Google 4 opened of­fices here in 2015. Also here: food data com­pany Food Ge­nius and work­place caterer Crafty.

Med­i­cal de­vice com­pany At­tune Med­i­cal, agtech firm Hazel Tech­nolo­gies, and bat­tery-tech startup SiNode Sys­tems call the up-and-com­ing Bronzeville home. 1871 CEO Betsy Ziegler says the area is a hot­bed for “as­pir­ing en­trepreneurs on the South Side.”


Shani­qua Davis 5 wanted to ex­pand Noirefy— the mi­nor­ity job por­tal she founded—so she turned to Chicago tech’s It Girls: Gerri Kah­n­weiler 7 and Cayla Weis­berg, 6 who run In­vestHer. “They were re­ally help­ful for me” in start­ing con­ver­sa­tions with in­vestors, Davis says. The two have in­vested in Code­v­erse, Par­tySlate, and 11 other women-led ven­tures.


Illi­nois has bil­lions in un­paid debt and nearly saw its credit rat­ing low­ered to junk sta­tus. “It ham­pers our abil­ity to cre­ate more in­cen­tives” to bring firms to the state,” says 1871’s Ziegler. “It’s the only draw­back to start­ing a com­pany here,” echoes Melissa Kauf­man, 8 ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of North­west­ern Univer­sity’s in­cu­ba­tor, the Garage. .9 “It’s a con­ver­sa­tion stop­per.”

“Chicago has a rep­u­ta­tion for not hav­ing early-stage cap­i­tal,” says Thiers, “which is not un­founded. There is a con­ser­vatism to in­vest­ing in com­pa­nies here.” Ex­plORer’s Fried agrees, but sees hope­ful signs that some play­ers who’ve scored big in re­cent ex­its are now start­ing to cut checks to lo­cal up-and-com­ers.


$117 MIL­LION Up­take (pre­dic­tive data an­a­lyt­ics) $80 MIL­LION Tem­pus (clin­i­cal data an­a­lyt­ics) $80 MIL­LION Vil­lageMD (lo­gis­tics tech)


$800 MIL­LION Pay­ments plat­form Brain­tree, to Pay­Pal (2013) $600 MIL­LION Healthy snack bar com­pany RxBar, 10 to Kel­logg’s (2017) $192.5 MIL­LION Restau­rant de­liv­ery ser­vice GrubHub, 11 in its IPO (2014)


Mon­ica Royer— sis­ter of Bono­bos founder Andy Dunn—runs baby­cloth­ing com­pany Mon­ica + Andy. 14 She’s raised more than $2 mil­lion, and bor­rowed from her brother (and oth­ers) by open­ing stores for her e-com­merce com­pany in Chicago, At­lanta, and New York City.

Thiers’s top com­pany to watch is Code­v­erse, 15 a cod­ing boot camp for kids ages 6 through 12. Co-founder Katy Lynch launched the busi­ness with her hus­band just last year; this sum­mer, they raised $10 mil­lion. Katlin Smith launched Sim­ple Mills 16 in 2013. It quickly be­came a lead­ing nat­u­ral baked goods brand. Its prod­ucts have only healthy in­gre­di­ents, like almond flour and co­conut sugar. Says Fried, Smith’s friend and fel­low founder and food en­thu­si­ast: “If any com­pany is headed for a big exit in Chicago, it’s Sim­ple Mills.”


Genevieve Thiers was one of the 13 first women in Chicago tech to score a notable exit: She sold a ma­jor­ity stake in her nanny plat­form, Sit­ter­city, in 2009. Now she writes $25,000 checks to in­vest in promis­ing women-led com­pa­nies, and also hosts well-attended monthly “tech sa­lons” at her Lin­coln Park home. “Genevieve was our first early suc­cess,” says Par­tySlate’s No­vack. “It has been re­ally help­ful for women to have a role model like that.”


When Penny Pritzker, 12 bil­lion­aire en­tre­pre­neur and Obama’s sec­re­tary of com­merce, wrapped up in D.C., she knew she’d come back home. “I saw this ex­plo­sion at the in­ter­sec­tion of tech­nol­ogy, in­no­va­tion, and es­tab­lished com­pa­nies in Chicago,” says Pritzker, a Mi­crosoft board mem­ber and chair­woman of her in­vest­ment firm, PSP Cap­i­tal Part­ners. She hosts reg­u­lar net­work­ing din­ners for lo­cal founders at her home, and co-leads an ini­tia­tive to help Chicago re­main a top tech des­ti­na­tion.


Chicago churns out highly skilled grads. The Univer­sity of Chicago and North­west­ern grad­u­ate around 1,700 and 2,600 re­spec­tively—fig­ures that do not include grad­u­ates from their highly re­garded busi­ness schools. And, says 1871’s CEO Ziegler, “look at the busi-

ness school statistics—over a third of grad­u­ates stay in Chicago.” DePaul Univer­sity, Univer­sity of Illi­nois Chicago, Loy­ola, and Columbia Col­lege also turn out en­gi­neers. Help­ing the city at­tract and hold onto tal­ent, says the Garage’s Kauf­man, is how it “blends what I love about New York— that big-city vibe with lots of cul­ture, bars and restau­rants—with a more ap­proach­able feel.”


Trendy River North’s Chicago Cut Steak­house, a block from Mer­chan­dise Mart, is a techie fa­vorite. “Lots of in­vestors dine there,” says Fiona McEn­tee, co-founder of her epony­mous law firm. An­other key haunt: West Loop’s

Bar Tak­ito, close to Google, says Brenda Dar­den Wilk­er­son, CEO of Ani­taB.org, which seeks to bring women and mi­nor­ity founders into tech. Find her and oth­ers there chat­ting over tacos and mar­gar­i­tas. Thiers holds court at Ce­leste, 17 a swanky restau­rant and bar just around the cor­ner from 1871—where in­vestors, founders, and food nerds en­joy Amer­i­can fare: grilled cheese, fried chicken, and pop­corn sweet­breads.

Source: Startup Genome

1 8 Roughly 3,000 star­tups are located in Chicago. Nearly 34 per­cent are run by women—the most of any ma­jor U.S. city. 13 3 15 10 11

17 12 5 2 6 14 7 The Garage at North­west­ern Univer­sity fea­tures an aug­mented/vir­tual re­al­ity lab. 4 9 16 In 2017, Chicago-area tech in­vest­ments topped $1.5 bil­lion. Source: Dow Jones Ven­tureSource

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