In June, CEED brought a cohort of its entrepreneurs to Chicago to learn about potential business opportunities, industry trends and gain insights from business leaders about how they run their companies. By the end of the envoy, everyone was blown away, and not by the famous Chicago winds, but the willingness of each leader to be open and candid with their advice, the quality of the meetings, and beauty of the city.
During the envoy we met with executives from fast growing Chicago superstar startups, Uptake and Reverb; industry giants, United Airlines and PepsiCo; publishing veteran, the Chicago Tribune; early stage investors, Chicago Venture and Irish Angels; bitcoin ATM providers and digital currency specialists Digital Mint; and the Chairman of the Illinois Technology Association (ITA). We also visited entrepreneur hubs TechNexus, mHUB, Catapult, 1871, and met with founders of Cleverbridge, LimeRed agency, Zaf group and World Chicago.
We learned from Fred Hoch of ITA, that Chicago is a great destination for B2B and service-oriented tech companies. Over 30 Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in Chicago and no one industry dominates the city’s economy. In Chicago, larger corporations are eager to cooperate with new companies, as they are looking for new products, talent and are aware that technology is transforming major industries.
In discussion with Mark Rose, VP Strategic Marketing at Tronc publishing – Chicago Tribune, he shared how publishing will never be the same due to digital media. Therefore, the organization diversified its services and focused on its differentiating factor which was its competitive advantage in local news and local businesses which is what they determined drives subscription. The importance of innovating and implementing new technology was also a message we heard from Jason Birnbaum, VP Operations and Employee Technology at United Airlines. One of the challenges that kept him up at night was “what is going to disrupt us?”. Investors, Jackson Jhin of Chicago Ventures and Kaitlin Doyle of Irish Angels see an opportunity here and think that the software era is not over. So many industries are still not touched by technology.
We were thrilled to have the opportunity to meet with the leadership of the industry disruptor, Uptake, a predictive analytics solution provider that helps major industries increase productivity, reliability and safety of their machines. Gentzy Franz, Manny Bernabe and Toni Maraviglia shared their goal to not only create an industry disrupting product but to be leaders at a company with an industry disrupting culture. They talked about their process of working with clients as well as their practice of conscious leadership. You can read more about this meeting on the blog post written by envoy participant, Marko Sersen, Founder of Energen, Slovenia.
We were motivated by founders and experienced managers such as Craig Vodnik, Co- Founder of Cleverbridge, Mike Zafirovski, who served 21 years as President/CEO/COO at Nortel, Motorola, and five GE businesses, and Emily Lonigro of the LimeRed agency. They all shared their stories of leadership while imparting wisdom and sharing their struggles as founders.
The group had the opportunity to learn about new industry opportunities and models from operators like Heather Farr Kevin Drost, Strategy Officer at Reverb. Reverb is a platform for musicians to buy/sell instruments which in and of itself is meeting a strong need in the market. But one of the things that made this company so successful is its community building, price transparency and exceptional customer service, which addresses music specific challenges and hires musicians who understand these challenges and really aim to help troubleshoot. Marc Grens, founder of Digital Mint shared his perception of the future of digital currency and bitcoin, and James Spalding, the Marketing Director of Tropicana shared how PepsiCo positions its products. We learned about opportunities for new programs in the Balkan region with Peggy Parfenoff, World Chicago, a partner of CEED and had a great time visiting entrepreneur communities Catapult with Caitlin McAllister and mHUB with Shivani Shah.
Please visit CEED Global facebook page, where you can read more indepth about every meeting and person we met during the Chicago envoy. We are thankful to everyone for their time and inspiration.