From July 31 to August 3, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel invited 125 students from top Midwest universities to take a tour of Chicago’s tech scene and attend the 3-day Lollapalooza music festival. I was one of the fortunate selected participants at ThinkChicago Lollapalooza thanks to the Zell Lurie Institute’s support for both travel to the conference and for my pursuits in entrepreneurship including investing in early-stage companies. This three day event showcased Chicago’s brightest startup minds/community members and provided a glimpse into Chicago’s tech and innovation momentum.
University of Michigan Ross School of Business alum Ryan Fukushima (Class of 2013) spoke to a group of ThinkChicago participants about his role as Vice President at Chicago-based venture capital fund Lightbank. Along with several representatives from Lightbank’s local portfolio companies, Ryan provided students with the VC perspective towards investments as well as start-up companies’ insights on the fund raising process and experience.
Another highlight of the 3-day event was the Ethos 3.0 panel event about start-up culture and office space. The event was part three of a series to bring together Chicago’s technology and creative community to innovate on developing sustainable organizations through its people, place, and culture. A panel of leaders including Godard Abel, CEO of SteelBrick/G2 Crowd, Justyn Howard, Founder/CEO of Sprout Social, Marc Landsberg, Founder/CEO of socialdeviant and Coco Meers, Founder/CEO of PrettyQuick presented their views of how culture and space are critical elements for building a successful organization. The most interesting takeaways were the following:
- Fun cannot be forced; Unique company culture cannot develop overnight just because Friday was Wear Colorful Pants Day at the office
- Physical place optimization can foster employee satisfaction and motivate team members to perform their best
- Designated private desk area is necessary to accomplish individual work in addition to shared group discussion spaces with creativity tools (whiteboards, flip charts, etc.)
- Natural light is a significant factor in workplace satisfaction as witnessed by inherent elements in nature that require sunlight to flourish
- Space and culture are directly related. Space enables culture to form and evolve.
From the 3-day conference the overall impression was that Chicago’s successful start-ups are not going to be the Yo- type of companies which are quick one function whimsical apps. The community in Chicago is filled with builders who want to make solutions that last and solve real problems. One of the last sessions connected the open public data portal of Chicago city with the 125 conference participants in an interactive design thinking exercise to demonstrate the ease-of-use to solve civic problems using available data. Overall, my participation in this 3-day conference helped me appreciate and recognize Chicago as a serious contender in developing the next startup blockbuster.
Connie Yu, MBA/MS 2015
University of Michigan | Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise
Stephen M. Ross School of Business | School of Natural Resources & Environment