How the Entrepreneurs Behind Chicago's Top Exits Are Fueling the Next Startup Wave
In a Forbes article I wrote earlier this year, I analyzed why 2017 was a great year for Chicago exits and investments. Inspired by these recent successes, I traced the data back a bit farther and examined Chicago’s exits from 2012 to 2017. Using PitchBook data and SEC filings, I found that the exits in the chart to the right positioned Chicago to be among the top cities in the nation for high startup exit valuations.
With so many high-value exits in recent years, I decided to explore what the entrepreneurs behind those 10 exits do today. The research findings prove more good news for the Midwest ecosystem: the majority of Chicago’s top entrepreneurs are in market with new ventures. Better still, those ventures have investor and public traction.
Just this month, Chicago saw an excellent example of how successful teams breed continued success when biopharmaceutical startup Aptinyx completed its IPO. The founding team of Naurex spun off Aptinyx in September of 2015, just a month after Allergan acquired Naurex for $1.7B.
Last month, we saw movement from the entrepreneur behind the GrubHub’s $2B+ IPO. GrubHub co-founder Mike Evans’ new startup Fixer announced that it raised a Series A round. Fixer is a platform that matches local handy people to commercial and residential real estate needs. With his success and expertise in the sector, Evans’ ability to capture investor confidence and capital in another marketplace play is not a surprise.
Tracing back a bit farther to March, the founding CEO of Orbitz quietly raised $17M for his next travel startup Journera. It is one of the top Chicago rounds to close so far in 2018. That same month, Cleversafe founder Chris Gladwin’s fourth startup Ocient raised a$10M Series A. Gladwin founded Ocient just a year after IBM acquired Cleversafe for $1.3B in 2015.
While these recent startup announcements show an increased velocity of activity, we see evidence of this pattern over the past couple of years. For example, the CTO of Fieldglass — which SAP acquired for $975M — returned to the ecosystem in 2015 to found Catalytic. Catalytic raised over $11M in 2016 (which my firm Hyde Park Angels participated in) to build a platform that helps enterprises automate workflow processes. (It’s worth noting that Fieldglass founder Jai Shekhawat is also back in the market as a board member of both FourKites and Signal, two growth stage Chicago startups that raised more than $50M and $80M respectively. My firm invested in FourKites.)
The same year that Catalytic raised its $11M round, the co-founder of Trustwave, Andy Bokor, founded his third startup, Truss Holdings. Truss — a virtual and augmented reality-based commercial real estate marketplace — raised a Series A late last year (which my firm invested in).
While Chicago is not new to repeat entrepreneurs (e.g., Glenn Tullman, Eric Lefkofsky, and Brad Keywell are all key players in nurturing the ecosystem), a healthy market demands greater diversification of experience and ideas to continue breeding success over the long term. The fact that most of the entrepreneurs behind Chicago’s recent top exits returned to the ecosystem — with support from venture capitalists and the public market alike — sends a strong signal that Chicago’s ecosystem is healthy and maturing.
This story originally appeared in Forbes on June 26, 2018.