Last week, the Wolverine Venture Fund (WVF) organized its second annual trek to Chicago to meet with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. WVF has built up an extensive network of more than 170 alumni during its 16 year history and it hopes that this year’s trek built new in-roads and connections beyond its current roots. The 14 fund members who attended the trek met with six startups and two venture capital firms, housed in the growing incubator and the surrounding River North neighborhood.
The trek was meant to further foster the strong links between Ann Arbor and Chicago. Chicago, the largest target city for Ross alums, provides a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity. The 1871 incubator, located in Merchandise Mart, is one of the strongest hubs for burgeoning startup activity in the area. It also hosts TechStars a Chicago-based accelerator that puts promising entrepreneurs through a rigorous training program.
The team engaged with six startups that specialized in social media analytics, health care information technology, music applications with a social flare and wellness. Among these companies, one of them built a platform that crowd sourced data from millions of users to help brands choose better keywords and marketing tactics and another leveraged the comparative nature of the human psyche to analyze specific messages and data for large companies and political campaigns. These meetings with Chicago innovators inspired the WVF team.
During the trek, the WVF members also met with Ross alum Ryan Fukushima at the venture capital firm Lightbank. Ryan shared his thoughts on current trends in the venture capital industry, with a focus on strategic and more protective terms in deals. He mentioned some of the hot technology platforms and hardware, such as drones, which are attracting attention from the venture capital industry.
Another venture capitalist told the WVF team stories about working in the trenches and provided advice on how to assess business opportunities and management teams, often under impossible deadlines. Both expressed their optimism on the Midwest venture market and the boost of activity they have seen in the last few years.
The team capped the night off with a happy hour at the nearby Hubbard Inn, joined by previous WVF members. The alumni shared fond memories of their time on the fund and compared notes on exits and investments since their graduation.
To learn more about the Wolverine Venture Fund, please visit the website: http://www.zli.bus.umich.edu/wvf/.