Chicago's Startup Boom
Chicago's Startup Boom
Back in the day when Hizzoner Richard J. Daley ran the show, Chicago was touted “the city that works.” Autocratic leadership ostensibly guaranteed efficiencies that, for anyone living or opening businesses in the Second City, happily covered a multitude of aldermanic sins.
Well, all good things must come to an end. The Loop and Lake Shore Drive may have enjoyed the benefits of Machine rule. Daley’s own neighborhood, working-class Bridgeport, certainly did. But the seeds of decrepitude grew apace in so many other places: Englewood and Austin, Garfield Park and Gage Park. By the end of the last century, murder rates were sky-high while, today, Chicago is in danger of being wholly defined by the 500 homicides committed so far this year. Add in the city’s ongoing fiscal crisis; the bad press has been unremitting.
Of course, such “brand” perception is one-dimensional, and all the more vicious a circle if it fuels stakeholder demand for corporate relocations or the reductions in HQ staff sizes that seem to be a trend in Chicago. Meanwhile, you’d assume small businesses would be fleeing in droves amid these shadows of urban disruption and lifestyle adversity.
But whaddya know! If you take a real look, if you actually talk to the people who run some of the city’s most interesting companies, they’ll tell you quite a different story. Their confidence is incandescent, enough so that Chicago can rightly claim to be one of our most vibrant startup corridors.
Let’s listen to these voices.
“Chicago is becoming one of the key tech and innovation hubs in the country,” advises John Patterson, CEO of NextCapital, an enterprise digital advice firm that recently set up downtown, and which just raised $18 million in new financing. “Entrepreneurs are coming to Chicago because of multiple factors, which collectively provide a setting for growth, including education, training, a persistent venture capital base, and multi-stage companies from startup to mature firms.”
The housing shortages and horrible rush hour traffic are nothing new, here or in many great cities. But as Patterson reminds us, Chicago has a singular selling point: a cost of living much less than Silicon Valley or New York. “As a result, Chicago is benefiting more in today’s market than [it has] in the past,” he adds.
Also, “today’s startups are profiting from the fruits and labor of earlier entrepreneurs and VCs,” says Chee-Young Kim, co-founder of NowSecure, which does mobile tech security work for some of the world’s largest institutions. “Newer VCs such as Lightbank were started by entrepreneurs who are now pumping investment dollars to startups. We have InvestHer Ventures that funds female founders of technology companies. And the Pritzer Group that’s been lighting the way for Chicago entrepreneurs, startups, and the ecosystem for many, many years.