ML - Michigan Avenue

2013 - Issue 3 - May/June

Michigan Avenue - Niche Media - Michigan Avenue magazine is a luxury lifestyle magazine centered around Chicago’s finest people, events, fashion, health & beauty, fine dining & more!

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Page 120 of 147

I Doejo founder Philip Tadros works alongside his cofounders and employees in their Lakeview offices. t's a freezing night in February, and the spacious second floor at Rockit Bar & Grill is bulging at the seams. This is the monthly meeting of Built In Chicago, a community group focused on growing tech startups, where scores of eager entrepreneurs are quick with business cards and elevator pitches. It feels a lot like speed dating. There's a duo pitching a site where users produce their own reality shows by uploading smartphone footage. Another team promises to match sought-after Web developers with entrepreneurs in need. A third group has an idea for a virtual lost-and-found box driven by social media. Many of the ideas presented here will eventually fizzle, but there's also the sense that the next Groupon, Threadless, or Orbitz could sprout at any moment. Chicago may be playing catch-up with Silicon Valley, but a fundamental shift is underway, and it's the burgeoning startup ecosystem that has sounded the gong. "A couple of years ago, very little [community] existed," says Maria Christopoulos Katris, CEO of Built In Chicago. "Now there's tons." Built In Chicago boasts 14,000 members. Technori Pitch, a monthly ideas session, has sold nearly 9,000 tickets and launched more than 100 new businesses. And Techweek Chicago, the third annual ideas bazaar that kicks off at the end of June, is projected to draw 8,000 attendees. In 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the convention he planned to recalibrate the Second City's second-ness: "Three years from now, it'll be known as the 'Startup City.'" That's not a pipe dream. Last year saw $391 million in funding awarded to 197 local startups—more than ever before. In the past few years, entrepreneurial support organizations have been launching at a breakneck pace: incubators like the Impact Engine and Excelerate Labs, investors like the i2A and FireStarter Fund. Katris says the boom is the product of a complex alchemy: world-class higher education in Chicago's backyard, an organized push from the mayor's office, a battalion of serial entrepreneurs, and an injection of early-stage capital—all of which begged for a community to tie everything together. "Everyone was like, Woe is me. I can't find talent in Chicago; I can't find investors in Chicago," Katris explains. So, out of entrepreneur Matt Moog's desire to connect players in the then-isolated startup world, Built In Chicago was born. Now that the landscape has ripened, Katris says, "Chicago is finally at a point where enough entrepreneurs have had exits and are investing both time and money in the next generation." It's that next generation that promises a wave of motivated, young power players—first-timers with bright ideas alongside serial entrepreneurs who have already found success. Emerson Spartz, a 26-year-old viral genius, describes the cheerful collaboration between generations as the product of mid-American pleasantness, impossible to quantify but generally accepted as a factor that sets this region apart from the cynicism sometimes found elsewhere. "The general mind-set here is more about helping," he says. "It's more laid-back than it is in [Silicon] Valley. You don't face that cutthroat, competitive, either-you're-raising-that-money-or-I'm-raising-it kind of mentality." Spartz would know. He may be younger than many in the tech community, but he's already a veteran after working in the sector for more than a decade. At 12, he founded, the premier destination for young Harry Potter fans, whose 50 million monthly page views led to a New York Times best seller and appearances on national television. After homeschooling himself through high school and graduating from Notre Dame, he founded Spartz Media, which he runs with a small but dedicated staff in River North. Virality is the group's province, and judging by the 160 million monthly page views across a growing arsenal of 23 sites, Spartz knows exactly what he's MICHIGANAVEMAG.COM 118-121_MA_FEAT_Reportage_Sum_Fall_13.indd 119 119 4/16/13 3:23 PM

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