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Entrepreneur Inspiration

I had the pleasure of spending the day at my alma mater Northwestern University. I love the energy of being on campus and always walk away inspired. Today I had even more reason to be energized because I attended Entrepreneur@NU, a conference organized by the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the McCormick School.

This was its third annual conference, and it’s growing rapidly – attendance was double last year’s. The event is meant to “showcase the best of the Midwest entrepreneurial ecosystem from web-based start-ups to medical device companies to energy businesses that are all based in and around the Chicago area.” By gathering the best talent in Chicago and elsewhere, there are a variety of opportunities to learn from successful investors and entrepreneurs about start-up trends and insights in financing, operations, marketing and more. The theme of this year’s conference focused on how the Chicago entrepreneurial community can learn from one another and those on the coasts to make Chicago and the region a better place for start-ups and innovation. In other words, how can Chicago become more like Silicon Valley?

While there were no easy answers, plenty of experts were on hand to offer their insights. Kicking off the morning keynote with the West Coast perspective was Jim White, managing director of Sutter Hill Ventures. He relayed fascinating information in his thorough presentation, but my favorite quote came during the Q&A, when he was asked why so many entrepreneurs pursue their businesses, when so many don’t succeed: “Entrepreneurs are driven because they want to change the world in some way.” Couldn’t agree more, Jim.

After an engaging panel discussion with three Chicago VCs who gave a strong and persuasive Midwest perspective, the lunch keynote, Jeff Bussgang, managing partner at Flybridge Capital, offered the East Coast perspective. His insightful presentation included advice for entrepreneurs, including what investors look for in a management team. One line that stood out for me was that VCs may be looking for the “Pied Piper” effect, which includes the ability to recruit and retain a great team and partners, and also chemistry among the team members.

Also on hand were several founders and CEOs of leading Chicago start-ups, heads of successful angel funds and incubator/accelerator programs, and even Kevin Willer, co-founder of Google’s Chicago office who is now president and CEO of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center.

Even though I’m not a first-time entrepreneur, I walked away with fresh perspectives on business possibilities. Hope to see you there next year!

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