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I’m not a big city guy, so one of my favorite things to do when I find myself in a big city is get up early, before the city wakes up, and go for a run. There’s something about the silence echoing throughout a vast developed physical space such as LA that calms me down and builds up some reserves for me for the day.
I was in LA all day yesterday – starting with a Fireside Chat organized by David C Murphy. It was a full room of entrepreneurs and what I hope was a stimulating and useful conversation for them. I got in an Uber and traveled across town to Nix Hydra, a company run by two remarkable young women that we recently invested in. I got in another Uber and returned to Santa Monica where I attended the Innovators Collective Dinner, hung out with some old friends, and met a few new ones. Today I’m at the Disney Accelerator and tomorrow I’m at Oblong.
At dinner, I sat with my long time friend Matt McCall. Matt and I were on the FeedBurner board together and he’s got a powerful connection between LA and Chicago – another city with an incredibly thriving startup community. Matt’s part of Pritzker Group Venture Capital which has offices in Chicago and LA as a result of where JB Pritzker and Tony Pritzker call home (Chicago and LA respectively). While they invest nationally, they have deep roots in both cities and are key players in the respective startup communities, along with the cities at large.
As I was talking to Matt, it rolled around in my head that there are a lot of similarities in the growth of both the Chicago and LA startup communities. Our engagement with each is similar – we have Techstars programs in each (Techstars Chicago and Disney Accelerator), we’ve made investments in each over the years, and they are each cities that I have personal affinity for and have spent a lot of time in, even though I’m not a big city kid.
I came back to an email in my inbox from Troy Henikoff, the Managing Director of Techstars Chicago, which closed the loop on this thought for me. Troy has been a key part of the development of the Chicago startup community and we’ve been good friends from the moment he first reached out to me about developing an accelerator in Chicago.
Troy reminded me about the Chicago Venture Summit, which is coming up on 10/14 and 10/15. The lineup looks incredible and includes keynotes from folks like Travis Kalanick (Uber), Padmasree Warrior (Cisco Chief Technology & Strategy Officer), Ted Leonsis (Revolution Partners and previous AOL CEO), and Peter Thiel. Not surprising, JB Pritzker is one of the leaders of the event. In the note that Troy sent me, there are confirmed attendees from VC firms such as Founders Fund, DFJ, NEA, GE Ventures, Motorola Ventures, Accel, Revolution, First Round Capital and Andreessen Horowitz. Yes, it’s a serious event worth attending if you can.
Since I started thinking about Startup Communities in 2010, a few years before I wrote the book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, I believed the discussion about entrepreneurship would spread far and wide. If we could have the amazing things going on in Boulder that we were experiencing at the time, there was no reason every major city in the world couldn’t have a vibrant startup community. It’s a joy to see this developing fast, and in a powerful and sustainable way, in cities like Chicago and LA. Sure, there’s always been significant entrepreneurial activities in both cities, but the essence of the startup community in both places feels different – and more powerful – this time around.
Huh? What? You didn’t know there was a TechStars Chicago? There is now.
Last night I was in Chicago at 1871, the amazing 50,000 square foot co-working space in the Chicago Merchandise Mart that has become the convening spot for the digital economy in Chicago and the home of Excelerate Labs. It was the mentor kickoff night for the fourth year of Excelerate Labs and I was delighted to be able to announce that Excelerate Labs and TechStars are joining forces to create and run TechStars Chicago.
Excelerate Labs is a three year old, high-quality accelerator in Chicago managed by Troy Henikoff (SurePayroll) and Sam Yagan (OkCupid, SparkNotes, Match.com) as well as Sandbox Industries’ Nick Rosa and New World Ventures’ Adam Koopersmith. In its first three years, it has already earned a place among the very best accelerators in the nation. Its first three classes of thirty portfolio companies have raised more than a combined $30M and I had the distinct honor of keynoting at their Demo Day last August.
Our relationship with Troy, Sam, and team started when Troy came to TechStars Demo Day in Boulder in 2009. Next Big Sound had gone through TechStars and Troy was a seed investor. He spent a bunch of time with me and David and suggested we start a TechStars Chicago. At the time, we weren’t ready to scale TechStars beyond Boulder, as we were obsessively focused at the time on getting things right and really working in Boulder before we tried to do a TechStars in another city. But we encouraged Troy and Sam to do their own Chicago accelerator, which became Excelerate Labs. David was a formal advisor, we both were mentors, and Troy and Sam did an outstanding job of picking our brains as they created Excelerate.
I remember showing up on one of the first days of the Excelerate program to do a mentor talk and Sam said “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing but this is going to be awesome!” It turned out he did, and it was, and Excelerate quickly became one of the best accelerators in the world.
Last fall when I was in Chicago for the Startup America Partnership regional meeting, I had lunch with Troy and asked him if he’d consider joining forces with us. Up to this point, we hadn’t expanded into a new city with another program – the TechStars programs in Boston, Seattle, and New York were created from scratch. And our vertical and powered by programs – Cloud (in San Antonio with Rackspace), Microsoft Accelerator (in Seattle with Microsoft) and Nike Accelerator (in Portland with Nike) were also started from scratch. We wanted to explore expanding by partnering with existing accelerators and based on the relationships, superb quality of Excelerate, and amazing Chicago startup community, we felt like Chicago was at the top of the list for doing this.
Fortunately, Troy, Sam, Nick, and Adam agreed and a few months later we are psyched to launch TechStars Chicago and welcome them to the TechStars family. Excelerate Labs is now TechStars Chicago. Apply today.