Category Archives: angel investor

POWER PITCH

by John Jonelis

What happens when you give kids—kids gifted in math and science—a real chance to bust out with their God given talents and excel?

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  • What if you trust them to lay their greasy little hands on equipment normally available only at elite universities?
  • What if you allow them to direct their own time?
  • What if you challenge them to construct their own goals and learn by themselves how to accomplish them?
  • What if you dare them to build real startup businesses at such a tender age?
  • And what if you throw them into a competition against a panel of critical judges from the real private equity world?

What happens? Good things! Good things happen! They happen here at IMSA – the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. I’ll give you an intimate peek at the inner works of this educational powerhouse so you can see for yourself what makes this one of the biggest success stories in the country.

Showcase – Chandra Gangavarapu

This is a high school with a serious entrepreneurship program. Many of the ideas, business models, and pitches produced here outshine what we’re accustomed to in the business world. Mere students, you say? Some of their companies have gained funding and gone to market. And many of these same students intern at real-world startups throughout Chicago.

According to Britta McKenna, Chief Innovation Officer at IN2, “Kids love to have real-world problems to actually work at. This space provides that opportunity.”

Today’s event is the grueling POWER PITCH. Each team presents its company twice before separate panels of judges—the finalists pitch three times.

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What Do the Judges Say?

The judges are all smiles as they feed at the idea bar after the first round. Competitors get whittled down by secret ballot. I corner John Lump. He’s a colleague at Heartland Angels and a professor at DePaul where I’ve lectured at his invitation on risk profiles in private equity. See IN YOUR FACE RISK.

This a practical guy who’s knee-deep in the real world of business as VP of Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago. I can count on him for an honest opinion. Here it is verbatim:

John Lump — Judge

“I love being a judge here. Second year I’ve been doing it. And it’s exciting and a lot of fun. The enthusiasm and energy of the kids is just fantastic.”

Swelly – Tyler Stock

“I saw several interesting businesses.

  • Swelly is a temporary insurance company.
  • Blabl is a company to help students with speech disabilities.
  • Rethink Numeracy is one that helps students with Downs Syndrome learn math—a more visual approach.

Some really cool ideas here.”

Blabl – Ayan Agarwal

“Obviously these entrepreneurs are quite young. There are some still in Jr. High. You’re talking kids that are 10, 12, 13 years old and already starting businesses! At Heartland Angels, we see entrepreneurs in their 20s up to their 50s and 60s. So these kids need much more mentoring. But I think you’re going to see some business opportunities here.”

Rethink Numeracy – Akshaya Raghavan

I touch base with Moises Goldman. As I’ve said before, he’s an old hand at private equity in Chicago and a VIP here at IMSA. I’ve known him a long time, and trust what he says. He’s a guy that projects humility, but receives deference and respect.

Moises Goldman – Judge

Today Moises is bursting with exuberance and he speaks with more passion than I’ve ever seen. What he says is as intuitive and emotional as it is insightful.

“Two of these kids blew me away. The company is called Fast Exit. One brother is 12 and the other is 15. Twelve and fifteen! I looked at the father and just jokingly said to him, what is it that you do? These kids are very, bright. Very, very bright—both of them.

[Moises is talking about the Orr brothers, Joshua and Maxwell. The older brother is in 8th grade at Avery Coonley. They are each pitching their own companies today.]

“What blew me away was that they’re two brothers, so I look at the father and I just wonder, what are his challenges as a dad with these two amazing kids? Because the social environment that they have—it must be an alternative universe to the one that I’m used to—that I grew up in.”

Jim Gerry with Joshua Orr of Fast Exit

[I suggest to Moises that their home life must be very nurturing.]

“Yes, somehow. But I’m amazed. That really blew me away—that blew me away. Last year, the older boy had a drone project that was a game you could adapt to Dave and Busters in that kind of environment.”

[I recall that drone project and ask if they’re both planning to attend IMSA.]

“The 12-year old—I don’t know. The 15-year old is applying for the coming year.”

OneNote Quiz – Maxwell Orr

Today there are 17 judges at Power Pitch – Patrick Bresnahan, Dane Christianson, Moises Goldman, Joe Jordan, Sanza Kazadi, Christine Krause, Maria Kuhn, John Lump, Josh Metnick, Nancy Munro, Kelly Page, Jacob Plumber, Lance Pressl, Julia Sanberger, Chris Stiegal, Tom Voigt, Joe Zlotniki. I agreed to be an alternate and fortunately don’t get that tap on the shoulder. I want to see the whole event.

Shop Cheetah – Catelyn Rounds, Julian Kroschke

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Entrepreneurship

IMSA’s entrepreneurship program is called TALENT—Total Applied Learning for Entrepreneurship—led by Dr. Carl Heine, Britta McKenna, and Jim Gerry. Jim is technically retired from the program but still volunteers his time. This is too much fun to stay away.

Heat2Heal – Sushil and Pranav Upadhyayula

At this place, students get real-life experience and opportunities to solve real-world problems and bring ideas to market. The goal is to instill the thinking patterns and mindset of an entrepreneur:

  • Develop a product
  • Form a team
  • Communicate ideas
  • Formulate a business plan
  • Protect intellectual property
  • Work your network
  • Raise funding
  • Start the business

Really? These are high school kids—some even younger. In a world of schools dominated by gangs, drugs, and fear, who would think them capable of such positive desires and accomplishments? Then I come across one of the quotes on the wall:

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IMSA Fast Facts

  • Teaching philosophy – The Socratic approach. Self-directed learning and problem-based learning.
  • 99.8% of IMSA students attend college.
  • 70.1% pursue majors in science or math.
  • 47% of faculty is PhD.
  • Alumni hail from every district in Illinois.
  • This is the school’s 30th year.

The IN2 Entrepreneurship Center at IMSA

I snag Dr Carl Heine, as he moves between presentations. He’s director of IMSA TALENT, their entrepreneurship program. I ask him if IMSA still has a presence at 1871, the huge incubator in downtown Chicago, or if all the activity is at the new IN2 facility.

Dr. Carl Heine, Director of IMSA TALENT

“IMSA is still a member of 1871. We take our students on Wednesdays to intern at companies. They’re embedded in startup teams. We can’t teach a class that’s better than that.”

“We do it every Wednesday. 1871 is just one location. We have students at the James Jordan Foundation downtown. Three of them are interning there right now, working on summer curriculum. There are students at a variety of other spots, too.”

[“This year’s Power Pitch is better than I’ve ever seen.”]

“POWER PITCH is an event that makes people feel good about the future. I hope you feel that way as a result of your involvement.

“The top three high school teams are advancing to the Next Launch regional competition in Indianapolis on May 17. If you would like to continue to work with your favorite team as a thought partner, a mentor or more, the purpose of IN2 and TALENT is to make that happen.”

Yoda

[I decide that Carl is the Yoda of IN2. I ask him, “What other events are coming up?”]

“This has been an academy for 30 years now, so we’d like to have a celebration. We’ve put it on March 30th this year, so there’s a 30 and a 30. As part of that, we’re doing the ribbon cutting for the IN2 space, and the new science labs that are part of a capital campaign that just wrapped up as well. And we’re celebrating the accomplishments of the institution over the last 30 years.”

This is just brilliant!

IMSA trains students not to fear any subject. I noticed THEORY OF ANALYSIS on the course syllabus. Normally, that’s offered only at the university level and it’s a course that’s hated and avoided by math majors nationwide. Never be intimidated by difficult subjects.

Award Ceremony

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17 Student Teams

IMSA’s President, Jose׳ M Torres, and the Stephanie Pace Marshall Endowment present the awards.

The top three high school teams—Blabl, Heat2Heal and Flameless—advance to the Next Launch Regional Competition in Indianapolis on May 17. The two winning middle school teams are Fast Exit and Shop Cheetah.

Blabl– Ayan Agarwal

 

Social Good Category Finalists & Winners

  • BlablAyan Agarwal – A mobile application that engages speech impaired children in conversation with an avatar – $1000 prize, Top 3 HS team
  • Heat2HealSushil Upadhyayula, Pranav Upadhyayula – A hands-free, self-powered Arthritis Wrap that converts body heat into electricity to provide targeted massaging & heat therapy for stiff joints – $500, Top 3 HS team
  • Rethink NumeracyAkshaya Raghavan – Teaching numeracy to children with Down Syndrome, leveraging their learning strengths.
  • Double-CheckRishi Modi – A protective biometric alternative to prevent ID theft.

Heat2Heal– Sushil Upadhyayula & Pranav Upadhyayula

Social entrepreneurs create self-sustaining businesses that promote social good. The STEM category is for-profit tech companies.

Fast Exit – Joshua Orr

STEM Category Finalists & Winners

  • FastExitJoshua Orr – A life-saving solution for managing exit signs – $1,000 prize, middle school team.
  • Shop CheetahCatelyn Rounds, Julian KroschkeA groundbreaking store navigation system that saves times and routes customers through the store$500 prize, middle school team.
  • FlamelessSivam Bhatt, Nikhil Madugula – Extinguishing cooking fires automatically with sound waves – Top 3 HS team.
  • SwellyAneesh Kudaravalli, Tyler Stock – A mobile app that allows users to get flexible insurance on personal items in an instant.

Shop Cheetah – Catelyn Rounds & Julian Kroschke

 

Other Competing Teams

  • AlertAshritha Karuturi, Priya Kumar – An app that efficiently connects homeowners to rescue workers, saving time and lives.
  • Be BettahZoe Mitchell – The food search engine and cookbook series that allows for bettah nutrition without changing your lifestyle.
  • Electrofood Alex Orlov – A microbial fuel cell that converts food waste to electricity.
  • OneNote QuizMax Orr – The personalized quiz generator.

Flameless – Sivam Bhatt & Nikhil Madugula

  • SafeSeatElliott Cleven – An app to alert parents if their child is left in a car unattended.
  • ShowcaseChandra Gangavarapu – A web app for musicians and dancers to gain recognition for their art.
  • Social BreadVainius Normantas – Using social media advertisements to raise funding and awareness for communities in need.
  • StrobeJayant Kumar, Zaid Kazmi – LED light strip supplements for fire and carbon monoxide alarms to assist the hearing impaired.
  • Verifact!Shreya Pattisapu – An effective and efficient way to couter fake news.

 

Read Part 1 – THE NAME IS IN2

Hope you enjoyed Part 2 – POWER PITCH

Coming soon – INQUIRY & INNOVATION

 

 

IN2 Contact Info

Address – 1500 Sullivan Rd. Aurora, IL 60506

Website – https://www.imsa.edu/

Carl Heine – heine@imsa.edu

Britta McKenna – bmckenna@imsa.edu

Tami Armstrong – tarmstrong@imsa.edu

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Photography by John Jonelis

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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Filed under 1871, angel, angel investor, Chicago Startup, Chicago Ventures, Education, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Events, IMSA, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Invention, investor, MIT, MIT Enterprise Forum, MIT Enterprise Forum Chicago, MITEF, MITEF Chicago, Social Entrepreneur, Startup, startup company, vc, venture capital

HAT TRICK

20161220-20150207-_jaj5090tby John Jonelis

He can feel it, hear it—his heart—beating hard, beating fast. Pounding above the din of those big nubbly tires and the blast of snow hitting the wheel wells. Is it anticipation? Fear? Primeval blood lust?

How will it feel to gun down a living animal? Can he really pull the trigger?

Today, Loop Lonagan joins seven seasoned hunters and four highly trained dogs to indulge in what his editor calls one of the great joys in life—slaughtering a few of God’s creatures. He’s a last-minute stand-in and rounds out the party to eight. Two hunters per dog. Perfect! How did he let himself get roped into this?

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Seasoned hunters?

Loop is a man that loves a brawl—loves it more than anything in the world. He still uses his fists when he gets a chance, but he’s never taken the life of a fellow creature—at least nothing bigger than a cockroach. Today, for the first time, he will attempt to kill pheasant with a shotgun—and for some reason it makes him itch.

Pretty soon, the storm gets mean and he wonders if it could be the weather that’s crawling under his skin. Both highway and horizon fade to white. Only a stray stop sign proves they’re even on a road. And the driver tools along as if nothing’s the matter. Loop shakes his head and mutters under his breath, “Dis is ridiculous. Gotta get myself under control.”

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White out

“Hmm?” Jonelis flips on the wipers and smears half-frozen slop off the windshield. “You say something, Loop?”

“No—no, nothin’ John” Loop goes silent. No way he’s gonna slobber all over the boss with his stupid fears. Just look at the guy! He’s barely touchin’ the wheel. He’s wearin’ that big satisfied grin like he’s in some kinda bliss. What’s he thinkin’?

Wind buffets the truck. Loop looks mournfully out the window.

Finally he can hold it all in no longer. Pointing to the GPS, he shouts, “Dis don’t look much like Route 47 to me, John boy. We shoulda oughta turn back.”

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What road?

The driver squints out the corner of his eye. “Turn back? TURN BACK?” He raises his voice to a roar. “WHAT ON EARTH FOR?”

Loop goes silent. He’s stuck here. He’s gotta tough it out.

“C’mon Loop—don’t pout like that. It snows in Chicago—every year it snows—you noticed that, right? And this whole bottom end always gets hit worst.

No response.

“Thirteen years, and my F-150 still gets me where I wanna go. It’s made for this weather.”

Still no response.

John suddenly cranks the wheel hard.

The truck swerves.

The faint white horizon flashes past the windshield at sickening speed and Loop grabs hold of something, anything.

When the truck straightens out, they’re again pointed the way they started. A 360 degree donut maneuver. Jonelis drives down the snowy path grinning and placid as if nothing happened. The guy’s gone psycho!

“Man, I love winter. Here, I’ll show you again.”

“NO!” Loop breathes fast and hard. “ARE YOU CRAZY?

“Sorry Loop. I guess I just enjoy being immune to the elements. This front is supposed to be headed east in a narrow band. We’ll probably break out of it soon.”

Loop shakes his head, grunts, and takes his hand off the sissy bar. Certifiable—the guy’s certifiable. On pure reflex, he balls his powerful hands into fists and utters a silent prayer for a different ride home. But what’s he gonna do now—walk? He drops his chin to his chest and quietly moans.

John reaches across and pats his shoulder. “Loop, you’re a bundle of nerves. Get control of yourself or you’ll be useless during the hunt.”

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Soggy bottom

Further south, they break out of the winter storm, just as forecast. The sun bursts through the clouds. Now it’s leftover snow banks and soggy ice-water puddles.

So they’re gonna live after all.

And Loop’s brand new Gore-Tex boots will prove a good investment today. He likes good investments and for the first time feels a twinge of optimism about this excursion.

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At the Club

Everybody’s in the clubhouse. But Loop still sits in the parking lot, staring out at a field, trying to ease his racing heart.

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Hunting field

All his life, he’s feared nothing, but that truck ride riled him up bad. Now he tastes bile. He swallows hard. Slows his breathing. Gotta focus on what happens next.

He goes over his fears one by one. What if he can’t hit what he aims at? What if he accidentally shoots another hunter? Or worse, a dog? These guys might forgive the first, but never the second. They spend way too much time training those little mutts.

Funny—none of that seems like such a big deal any more—not since the boss pulled that donut stunt. For the first time, Loop cracks a smile.

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Zeke on point

When he steps out of the truck, his new boots sink into mud and gravel. This sure ain’t the streets of the big city. He opens the tailgate and rummages through his gear, slips on a borrowed blaze orange hat, a borrowed blaze orange hunting vest, and dumps a borrowed box of twenty five high-brass #5 shells in the big pockets.

Slowly unzipping a soft camo gun case, he hefts a borrowed 12-gauge side-by-side, replete with elegant scrollwork and Turkish walnut stock. This is a heavy and absolutely gorgeous field piece. It’s gotta take guts to lend $3,500 worth of the gunsmith’s art to a sloppy amateur.

He works the safety and practices loading shells. Loop has never actually fired a shotgun and his doubts run wild. Sure, he aims a rifle or maybe his favorite Smith & Wesson Shield at stationary targets. But from what he’s heard, this sport sounds more like baseball or maybe even golf than the gun range.

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Practice

He practices mounting the shotgun one last time, swinging the muzzle past a nearby stand of trees, following through after each imaginary shot—just like they told him. It feels smooth and surprisingly natural. The stock fits him well.

“Okay, dat’s DAT! Time t’ face da music.”

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Clubhouse

Inside, Loop joins the party lounging around a big table. Introductions fly by him like dry leaves on a high wind, and in this cloud of new ideas he forgets every single hunter’s name. Strange—he remembers what they call all four of the dogs. Loop loves dogs.

Then one of them lays out the ground rules and mechanics of the hunt. It sounds a whole lot more organized than he imagined and he wonders if his 85 lb bull terrier Clamps can be trained to do this.

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Clamps

A sweet gal sits at the table and slides across a mug of beer. “Initiation time!” she says. “We don’t drink before a hunt but you’re new. You get one beer—just one. Afterwards I’ll allow you the pleasure of buying the first round for the rest of us.”

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Some gals hunt

Loop slurps off the foam and downs the lager with relish. He wipes a sleeve across his mouth, and sighs.

Another group of hunters come in from the barbeque grill and offer a plate of pheasant tamales. Loop bites into his. Delicious! Like nothing he ever tasted before.

Now he’s leaning back in his chair. No more pounding heartbeat. Yeah—everything’s gonna be fine. Time for da hunt.

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Killing Fields

The group’s got two large fields today—one next to the other—all to themselves. They form a line and slowly march side-by-side, spaced well apart, dogs running all over the place, sniffing for birds ahead.

It’s almost impossible to see a pheasant running through this grass. But when one hunkers down in the brush, the dog finds it and holds its point until a hunter flushes the bird. A good dog will hold its position till the shot is fired.

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Hunting formation

Today each hunter will log 5 miles over broken ground, rocks, holes, tall grass and brambles, and slog through wet snow and water, but these little dogs each put in at least 15 miles and get wet doing it. They never seem to tire out.

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Exuberant dogs

Loop’s realizes that his bull terrier would plop down for a nap after half a mile. If he ever retrieved a bird, he’d crush and shake it until it was no longer fit for the table. But hey—Clamps is at home in the city, where he belongs. Every dog has his job.

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Clamps in his element

The guy next to him (Rick, Gregg, Bob?—Loop can’t recall) moves ahead of Shiloh’s point, flushes a bird, and fires. The pheasant drops a leg and flutters down about fifty yards away. When the dog retrieves it, the bird is wounded but still alive. The hunter immediately breaks its neck to stop any suffering. All done so precisely. Very neat and clean.

Loop gapes at that rooster in awe. This is what they’re hunting? The color of its plumage takes his breath away. And look at the size of that thing—there’s gotta be alotta good meat on that bird.

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The beautiful pheasant

When the hunter slips it in the game sack at the back of his vest, they continue their march. Loop looks at his elegant field piece and something changes inside of him.

Maybe it’s the sight of blood.

Maybe the finality of the kill.

As boots crunch through the brush, instinct takes a firm hold and his fear and doubt fade to the background. He zones in on his surroundings with a focus more intense than he’s ever experienced. The bite of fresh air. The array of indescribable wild smells. Four dogs running, leaping. Subtle pheasant prints in the snow. A sparrow flock bursts skyward to his left. A hawk circles high overhead. But most of all the dogs. He tries to keep them all in sight. Impossible.

Mud sucks at his boots, and looking ahead, he sees the field entirely drown in snow melt. No way around it. He utters a silent prayer of thanks for Gore-Tex boots, checks the line of his fellow hunters, and adjusts his position.

They slog on to the next snow bank.

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Dry feet

“Duke’s on point! Hey Loop—your turn!” He sees Duke in thick cover just ahead—nose down, teeth clenched, saliva dripping from his mouth. The animal can barely restrain himself. Wow, do these dogs love to hunt! Loop knows a bird hides somewhere within 20 feet.

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Duke on point

He makes his approach and a huge gaudy rooster flushes, cackling as it flies.

He mounts his gun. Swings the muzzle to shoot. Suddenly two dogs run into his sight picture, chasing under the bird. Nope—can’t risk a shot over them. The pheasant glides safely beyond the tree line. Yeah, those dogs broke training, but after all, they’re excited, just like he is. So what? He might still get another chance today. And maybe somebody will take that bird later.

Just like investing, hunting is lots of hope.

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Upland game field

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Hat Trick

One guy is shouting at the white dog named Jack. That one ranges too far and finally breaks with the group to sniff out an area hundreds of yards to the side.  Loop likes Jack best of all the dogs and breaking from the line of hunters, follows him.  He feels one with him and shares the joy of the hunt as if he were an extension of the animal.

When he gets close, the dog is already holding point. Without warning, a rooster takes wing!

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Jack on point

Without stopping to think, Loop swings his shotgun and fires. Bird #1 tumbles into high grass.

Beginner’s luck.

He’s about to search for it when Jack goes on point again. Loop moves ahead of the dog and kicks at a tangle of brush, then he tries another clump. It seems impossible that a big colorful bird can hide here, but Jack’s still holding that point.

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Flushing a pheasant

The pheasant flushes behind his back.

On pure instinct, he wheels and shoots. An explosion of feathers—the bird drops straight to the ground. Loop fired way too soon—way too close. A real waste—not much meat left on that carcass. He chalks it up to inexperience and tells himself to slow down. But that’s bird #2.

Both barrels empty, he pauses to re-load. But Jack is on point again!

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Jack on point again

He moves ahead of the dog, eyes wide open, searching, wanting the kill. The pheasant erupts from the brush and into the sky. This time, he waits for some shooting distance, then the muzzle roars. Bird #3 down!

Three shells, three birds—all in the space of a couple minutes!

A hat trick!

Jack retrieves one bird, then another, his tail wagging. Loop stuffs both in his vest and picks up the one he pulverized by shooting too soon. He glances at his hands, smeared with blood from the ruined bird, and amazingly, it doesn’t bother him. A couple hours ago he wondered if he could pull the trigger and now he doesn’t even want to wipe his hands clean. He reflects that the blood of these birds is a gift. His game pouch bulges out behind and he enjoys the weight of it. He can hardly believe that he gets this privilege—to experience this primal sport and come away with real food. Again, he utters a silent prayer of thanks.

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One for the Road

Giddy from the hunt, Loop heads back toward the group, all his misgivings gone, every emotion urging him to break into dance. For the most part, he restrains himself. Zeke joins up with Jack, and Loop closely watches those two dogs.

He hears hunters call to each other in the woods.

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Jack and Zeke

Two shots! He pivots toward the sound. Two more shots in rapid succession! A pheasant flies out of the trees, fast as it can go, well out of range of the barrage of pellets aimed at its tail.

Before it can fly past him, Loop swings his gun, leads the bird, and fires.

A head shot! It instantly falls out of the sky.

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Zeke retrieves

Zeke retrieves the bird and Loop stows it, feeling a deep satisfaction he’s never known. That’s bird #4—and he’s spent only four shells! Plenty for the day! He won’t fire his shotgun again this trip.

The hunters form ranks and march across another field. And Loop gets treated to an amazing site. Shiloh points a bird. Zeke and Jack honor that point like the well-bred canines they are. How do they train dogs to do that?

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Zeke and Jack honor Shiloh’s point

Loop draws in a lungful of cold air. What a great day! Everybody gets at least three birds. Even John shot birds, but he claims it happened by accident.

On the way in, he pulls out his phone and snaps off a photo of the group.

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Hunting party

Then they head back to the clubhouse to clean up, drink beer, smoke the compulsory cigar, and tell lies.

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Meat on the Table

Back at the lodge, Loop makes a proposal that they all immediately accept. Dinner at his downtown penthouse.

He phones home. “Yeah Meadows—tell Anatole t’ dig out dat recipe fer Pheasant Zummer. I’m brinin’ da birds. And pick out da best wine. Yeah, all da trimmins, too. I’m showin’ up in an hour with seven happy guests in muddy boots!

He hears a professional, Very good sir,” and can hardly wait to experience the joy of a feast with his friends. These aren’t just any birds—these are HIS birds—birds he hunted down alive and killed himself! He’s sure every one of those hunters feel the same way about their kill. And he remembers something John said—words that got him here: “That feeling of satisfaction lasts for days, maybe weeks.”

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By accident?

Loop’s fallen in love with this place. A hunter’s paradise! It’s gotta be one of Chicago’s best startups and he wonders if they need another investor. The place looks prosperous enough. There’s no membership fee—no monthly dues—no volunteer work—you pay for your birds—that’s it. Nice clubhouse and bar. Good fields. Extended season and no bag limit. You can hire a guide and dog here. They even clean your kill. Wanna go?

And he decides to ride home with the same crazy driver that got him here.

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Erienna Hunt Club is located one hour south of downtown Chicago. The season runs from September 1st to April 15th. If you’ve got any primeval instincts left in your modern mind, check it out!

http://www.eriennahuntclub.com/

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Favorite club

 

All photography by John Jonelis and Loop Lonagan, with thanks to all his hunting mentors, especially Gregg Patz, Rick Bohning, and Frank Spellman.

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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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Filed under angel, angel capital, angel investor, Characters, Chicago Ventures, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, new companies, Startup, startup company, vc, venture capital

ENGINEERING YOUR PITCH

jockey-and-horse-t-ms-officeInsights from the Cornerstone Angel Meeting

by Stephanie Wiegel

Angel investment deals aren’t made on the spot as the TV show Shark Tank suggests. Instead, entrepreneurs are excused from the meeting after delivering their pitches. If you’re vying for early investment money, what’s said behind these closed doors can make or break a deal. Continue reading

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YOU MIGHT AS WELL DANCE

help-t-ms-officeIT Guys—Stop Playing Defense

by Howard Tullman

Not feeling enough love? Yes, techies are under appreciated until spit hits fan. But if you’re one of them, you’ve got a bigger role to play than you think. Here are three ways to raise your profile.

I feel bad for the guys in our IT department because they suffer the same career issue as the heads of Homeland Security. As we all know, terrorists and other scumbags only need to get it right one time and horrible things happen. Yet our counter-terrorism teams and other law enforcement agencies must try to be right every time. Then, when nothing happens, no one bothers to thank them or offer recognition for their work.

it-guys

People whine about cost, delays, and all the stupid rules. They figure that protecting us is what we’re paying these folks to do. The best the good guys can hope for is a tie. No harm—no foul. And no credit for keeping us safe.

I Don’t Get No Respect

IT departments in almost every business get the Rodney Dangerfield “I don’t get no respect” treatment. They’re taken for granted and get little or no recognition—from anyone—even though the complexity, significance, and risks associated with their responsibilities have multiplied exponentially in the last decade.

Face it, we humans only understand the degree of our dependence on machines and systems when they shut down, data disappears, and systems stop delivering the information we need to proceed.

help-ms-office

The truth is, you can’t do anything intelligent today without solid, timely, reliable, and accurate data. It’s the oil of the digital age and the IT guys are the ones with their mitts on the meters, mechanisms, and measurements. IT infrastructure is the make-or-break gate, tool and tunnel through which everything critical in our data-driven world passes. If they don’t get it right, your business simply doesn’t get done. Relative to your competition, you might as well be in the Dark Ages.

The Tide is Changing

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time with IT teams and I’m encouraged to see a few positive signs.

  • A slowly growing acknowledgement of the importance of IT.
  • Recognition of the turmoil caused by under-investing and under-appreciating the IT team.
  • How neglect exposes your entire company to critical and severe problems.

But time only changes what you don’t change first. I tell all the IT people I meet that they have to be their own best advocates and change agents if they really want to see meaningful improvements and add real value to their businesses.

This is no easy sell. These folks aren’t really built that way.

Selling their ideas is the last thing they ever thought they’d be stuck doing. But the waves of change are coming—and you can swim with the tides or sit still and be submerged.

I’ve found three specific ideas and approaches that senior-level IT folks can focus on to make a serious contribution to the future of their firms.

connected-devices-ms-office

1—Be a Weapon, not a Shield

Playing great defense isn’t enough. The smartest IT players are extracting from the plethora of connected devices and turning the data they develop into “weaponized” information—decision tools that move their businesses ahead by providing better and more timely solutions, both to internal users and outside clients. What gets done is what gets measured. Help your team optimize every aspect of the operation with real-time decision support. That puts everybody in a position to correctly make the most critical calls—like when to double-down on winners and how soon to ditch dogs. Providing increased metrics and visibility is what the best data-driven IT strategies are all about. Money is just expendable ammunition. Data is power and guess who’s in charge of the data?

future

2—Focus on Future

Everything is about the future. We need bridges—not more bandages. The network is the name of the game. Help your team exploit the extensive resources outside of your own shop. Connect your company to critical partners, collaborators, and new technologies that are beyond your four walls. Do it securely, without sacrificing speed, accuracy or ease of access.

Make sure your people are an active and effective part of all the “social” conversations that concern your business because these new channels are changing the way we all confer, compare, communicate, and consume. Unless your products and services are part of the ongoing conversations and decision sets, when the buyers are ready to buy, you’re nowhere.

Holding down the fort isn’t enough; you’ve got to do more than simple maintenance because your business needs a vision and a path forward—not another Mr. Fix-It.

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3—Be In the Room Where It Happens

If you don’t ask, you don’t get. As a senior IT professional, step up and insist that your presence and your input is central to securing the best solutions for the business. If you’re not there, if you don’t have some skin in the game, if you’re just a spectator, then the changes that do happen will happen to you, not through you. It’s not always safe to step up, but it’s the smartest bet you can make. If you don’t believe in yourself and your abilities, who else will? And take my word for it; waiting never gets you to a better result. The world is moving too quickly to give anyone the luxury of time. Just like in racing, you need to understand that no one waits for you.

If it’s any consolation in these tough and troubling times, just remember that they’re going to blame you for anything and everything that goes wrong anyway. So, if you’re already walking on thin ice, you might as well dance.

howard-tullman-double-gulp-t

Howard Tullman is the father of Chicago’s 1871 incubator.

Read his bio on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_A._Tullman

Check out his websites at http://tullman.com/

and http://tullman.blogspot.com/

Write him at 1871@Tullman

Image credits – Howard Tullman, Getty Images, MS Office

This is an excerpt from an article in INC.

http://www.inc.com/author/howard-tullman

Image credits – Howard Tullman, Getty Images, MS Office

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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BILLION DOLLAR UNICORNS

Kenneth M. Freeman

The world seems captivated by the growing number of unicorns – private companies theoretically worth more than $1 billion based on their latest round of funding. There are now more than 100 unicorns, led by Uber with a valuation of $66 billion.

unicorn-from-ms-office

If you were an early investor in any of these $billion+ gems, you’re winning big!  But what about investors who got in on the latest fundraising rounds?  Are the bragging rights of an expensive unicorn deal worth losing money on your investment?

The traditional venture capital investment formula is to select promising ventures early, while valuations are still low. Selecting several young businesses adds diversification and improves the likelihood that one or more will become a success.

While many unicorns have achieved notable marketplace success and will undoubtedly survive and thrive, their current valuations strain credulity, leaving late-round investors vulnerable to substantial losses. How likely is a big win when the venture is already valued at $10 or $20 or even $50 billion?

Uber’s annual revenue run rate is expected to exceed $10 billion by year-end. They retain 20% or $2 billion, which, with many markets left to conquer, is impressive.  But do these numbers justify a valuation of $66 billion? Remember, a future value of less than $66 billion for Uber will mean a financial loss for their latest investors.

Airbnb’s 2015 revenues are estimated at $675 million and projected to reach $2 billion by 2020.  Their latest investment round puts their worth at $30 billion. 2014 revenues were estimated at $900 million for Square and $600 million for Palantir. These companies aren’t likely to go away. But do these numbers justify valuations of $5 billion for Square and $25 billion for Palantir?  Is Snapchat (with still negligible revenues) really worth $22 billion?

Many venture capital investors say traditional valuation methodology – the net present value of projected future discounted cash flows – is impractical for venture capital.  They suggest that venture capital valuations rely on perceived potential along with passionate commitment and a dose of hope.

But valuations at early stages appear to implicitly reflect traditional valuation logic.  They recognize the riches of potential success, albeit impossible to quantify precisely, while discounting those values sharply to reflect low success odds and inherent risk.

The problem with unicorns’ soaring valuations is that they seem to assume the stars are perfectly aligned and everything will go right.  That rarely happens.  Yes, it largely did for Microsoft, Google and Facebook, three huge winners over the past 40 years.  But how many of those are there?  Even Apple had to survive near disaster before its remarkable success.

What if governmental regulations block portions of Uber’s or Airbnb’s planned expansion?  What if Uber drivers are ultimately ruled to be employees rather than independent contractors, changing the company’s fundamental economics?  The risks are even greater for unicorns with more limited revenues today (and most with large losses).

We at VCapital, are not interested in ventures already valued at $1 billion+, where a return of 10 or 20 times investment is far too unlikely.  Gambling in Las Vegas might be a better bet.

We believe in the historical venture capital success formula, focusing on early fundraising rounds – after venture potential is qualified through angel/seed funding but before valuations escalate wildly.  For early stage investments in ventures valued at $5 or $10 or $20 million, while most fail, success could mean an exit valuation in the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars.  A few of the ventures we’ve supported over 30 years have even exceeded valuations of $1 billion, but you can’t count on that.

This has worked well for our team over three decades.  While the VC industry’s average venture success rate (i.e. achieving any positive return on investment) is about 20%, through rigorous due diligence our success rate has averaged 37%, and our investors’ annualized returns have averaged well above industry norms.  Delivering an attractive return to investors requires a few exits at 10, 20 or more times the initial investment to offset the 63% that come in as modest winners or complete loses.

So why are later-stage valuations soaring to stratospheric heights?  We think it’s due to FOMO—Fear of Missing Out.  Getting in on a unicorn round is great for bragging rights, but for late-stage investors, getting out with a profit may be tough. We’re betting FOMO results in lots of loudly bursting unicorn bubbles.

We’re not concerned about a repeat of 2000’s broad dotcom bubble, which devastated the finances of millions of Americans, since today’s soaring valuations belong to companies that are still private. Their investors are primarily institutions and ultra-wealthy individuals who can weather the risk, so impact will be contained.

We are concerned, though, that a series of loud unicorn bubble bursts could cool the flow of investment dollars feeding life-changing innovation.  That would be unfortunate, since conditions for tech-enabled start-ups have never been better. It would also be unfortunate for the 8 million+ accredited investors (defined by the SEC as having net worth of $1 million+ excluding primary residence or ongoing annual income over $200,000), who finally – thanks to the JOBS Act – have access to professionally managed venture capital investing.

We believe that following the historical venture capital success formula will continue to generate attractive returns for investors who stay focused on pursuing strong ROI. In contrast, late-stage investors in pursuit of bragging rights to unicorn deals will increasingly find themselves under water.

Kenneth M. Freeman is the Strategic Marketing Advisor and Member of the Board at VCapital, LLC   http://www.vcapital.com/

This article appeared in NEWS FROM HEARTLAND

Image from MS Office

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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DRIVING VALUE WHEN FUNDING RUNS LOW

funding-tDavid Johnson

Overview

The funding environment for early stage startups has been shifting for some time, but as shifts accelerate, founders, executives, and investors should look to reassess their strategies to ensure that they remain optimal in a capital constrained environment. Q2 2016 saw the lowest rolling 12-month average deal flow for early stage investments since Q2 2013, this in spite of actual early stage dollars invested having increased by 127% over that period. Increasingly, early stage investors are looking to place fewer but more sizable bets on startups that are perceived as having the most promise. This can, and likely will, lead to a widening gulf between early stage startups that have a clear path to additional funding and those that may struggle to generate investor interest.

chart-1

Source: PwC/NVCA MoneyTree™ Report, Data: Thomson Reuters

This change is being driven by a number of factors, including venture capitalists hitting bandwidth limits (even for the most talented of multi-taskers, there are only so many investments one can effectively manage), maturation of certain investment theses (notably “Uber for X” models and consumer focused mobile apps), and the changing funding environment that has allowed early stage VCs to seek a level of market traction that in years past had only been expected of more mature startups. As a result of these changes, the business press is increasingly flooded with stories of well-funded startups failing, seemingly out of the blue, as anticipated follow-on funding rounds fail to materialize, and angel and VC investors pivot to focus on companies with a clear path to cash-flow breakeven. In this kind of funding environment, what is a startup entrepreneur to do?

funding

The good news is that, regardless of funding, the levers of sustainable value creation have not changed. Companies that provide differentiated, value-added goods and services to their clients are companies on a firm foundation. But every good strategy must take into account the resources available for that strategy’s execution, and as the early stage funding market shifts, startup leaders must take the time to objectively assess their current situation and look to chart an optimal path.

For those startup entrepreneurs concerned about the near-term future of their companies, assessing a company through the following three lenses can instill a disciplined, value creating mindset that is well suited to a shifting landscape:

 

  1. Cash Management. Too few startups understand the drivers of their company’s cash flows, and every report of well-funded startups abruptly failing without sufficient funds to cover employee payroll (a failing that could leave employers facing criminal charges) highlights this failing. Management should understand the near-term sources and uses of cash if there are no changes (“base case”), identify steps to conserve cash if needed, and have a clear sense of the amount of time the company has before the cash runs out.
  2. Business Model. While the effort to attain product market fit gets more press, developing and refining the correct business model is a key milestone for every successful venture. The ability to demonstrate a viable business model will significantly enhance the options of any startup.
  3. Goals. Are the current goals in-line with the company’s current cash situation and stage of business model development? A rule of thumb for liquidity constrained environments is to never count on new funders. If your current investors would be unwilling or unable to invest follow on amounts, plan accordingly.

 

Conclusion

Funding does not create good companies, but a lack of funding coupled with a persistent cash burn can kill any company. The key to avoiding this fate is acknowledging the possibility and taking steps to objectively assess, and if necessary modify, a strategy before it is too late.

 

About the Author David Johnson is a career change agent who has served as an advisor, board member, interim manager, investor and operator at organizations ranging in size from pre-revenue startups to Fortune 500 organizations. David is a frequent speaker and writer on the topics of value creation and performance improvement. He can be reached at david@abraxasgp.com or 312-505-7238.

Images courtesy David Johnson and MS Office

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225 West Washington Street, Suite 2200, Chicago IL 60606 www.abraxasgp.com

This article appeared in NEWS FROM HEARTLAND – The Journal of the Heartland Angels

 

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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INVESTING: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CASH

by Scott M. Anderson

Angel investing is influenced by many factors affecting the startup including: technology, unmet demand, scalability and, most important, the founding team. These and many other factors will have a critical impact on the success or failure of the investment. However, there is one common factor to them all: Cash. cash An investor and founder are in the elevator together. The investor says “Nice idea, how much capital do you need?” The founder says “$750K”. Investor says “Why $750K?” Founder says “We believe it’s the right amount based on other startups I’ve heard about.” Or she might say “It seems like the right amount based on the size of other angel investments.” Or she might say “It just seems like the right amount.”

Those responses are all wrong!!

A more appropriate response would be: “We’ll need $450K to fund losses the first two years, $250K to buy tooling and another $50K for inventory and other working capital needs.” After hearing this better response, the investor thinks: “As with most founders, I’m certain her numbers are worthless. However, this founder seems to have specific numbers which suggests she’s analyzed them and may be a good overseer of my invested money. I’m interested in her assumptions. I’d like to meet with her again.”

At a minimum, any founder must have a high level understanding of how much capital is needed and the reasons why. She must be prepared to communicate these reasons as part of her elevator speech. Similarly, each investor should ask for and expect an immediate response from the founder, which reflects her understanding of why the investment is needed.

How does the founder determine what she needs? And how does the investor determine if the investment amount is right? A cash projection will meet the needs of both parties. An analysis of the startup’s cash inflows and outflows will confirm the company’s investment needs. At a high level, the cash projection is easily calculated as net profits + capital expenditures + required working capital (such as inventory stocking required to achieve sales). More complex business models would require a more in‐depth treatment.

The investor met with the founder again and received the following projected Income Statement (in $000s). table-1 Let’s examine these numbers to see if they confirm the founder’s response in the elevator:

  1. First 2 years of losses of $450K. The loss in year 1 is $242K and the loss in year 2 is $208K. These sum to total losses of $450K. RESPONSE IS CONFIRMED.
  2. Tooling cost of $250K. The Capital Expenditures (CAPX) in year 1 is $250K and $0 thereafter. RESPONSE IS CONFIRMED.
  3. Working Capital needs of $50K. The working capital is required to be $20K and $30K for years 1 & 2, respectively, totaling $50K. RESPONSE IS CONFIRMED.

The founder has provided numbers at the meeting which agree with those she cited. That’s good. The founder would lose all credibility if they did not support her elevator speech. But, has the startup asked for enough at $750K? Let’s examine a projection of the cash in the startup’s bank account. With an investment of $750K in year 1, the following is a projection of the startup’s cash in the bank: table-2 The cash bank balance is projected not to be negative at the end of any year over the projection period and the total financing received exceeds the total cash out, so an investment of $750K would be adequate based on the earnings performance projected by the Income Statement. However, the large cash balance of $238K at the end of year 1 suggests that the timing needs of the startup may not match the investment. In fact, the investor would rather invest the excess cash of $238K in year 1 for a different investment which would pay off within 12 months. Such an alternative investment would enable the investor to realize a financial return on the excess cash while still fulfilling his total commitment of $750K to the startup. Following this thinking, if the investment were made in two installments versus one, the following projected cash balance results: table-3 A two installment investment better matches the startup’s need since no excess cash exists at any time during the financing period. The investor would suggest to the founder that the $750K investment should be made in two installments: $512K in year 1 and $238K in year 2. An investor’s diligence process should be stepwise: a layer of information is requested, and provided by the company. Additional information is requested and provided, until the investor is completely clear about the startup’s execution strategy.

From the founder’s perspective during the diligence process, it’s critical that each diligence level be consistent with all prior levels. In our example, the founder responded in the elevator with a high level description of why she needed $750K. That was diligence level one. The projected Income Statement, CAPX and working capital projection provided by the startup was diligence level two. Fortunately for the investor and the founder, the level two diligence substantiated the information established in the elevator.

My recommendation to the investor for this startup is that the next diligence layer should focus on the detail behind the rows on the Income Statement. Examples include: with sales, which customer(s) will account for 80% of the sales in the projected years? For cost of sales, what are its major components? What explains the increase in gross margin percentage from year 1 to year 3? For the expense row, what are the major expenses and what explains the increase in year 2?

Responses to each of these inquiries will have a direct impact on the cash projection. A complete diligence discussion is beyond the scope of this article. However, the diligence process would continue until the investor is satisfied with the strategy and underlying assumptions. Throughout the process, focus must be maintained on the cash projection to understand how the diligence analysis will impact the amount and timing of the anticipated investment.

Scott M. Anderson is a principal at Anderson Financial Services, LLC and has been performing cash projections for decades as an investment banker, a workout specialist and, recently, as an advisor to investors and startups. He can be reached at scott@andersonfsllc.com.

Image from MS Office

This article appeared in NEWS FROM HEARTLAND

 

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2016 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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