12 Chicago VCs You Should Know About

This article was originally published on Forbes.com and written by Pete Wilkins.

Chicago is quietly becoming a hotbed of venture capital that fuels technology startups — not just in Chicago but across the country and in a wide range of industries. For example, did you know that Calm, SpaceX, and Coinbase all received funding from Chicago VCs? There are dozens of top VCs in the area that anyone in the startup world should know about, especially those in healthcare, marketplaces, and logistics.

To give you a taste of why these VCs and their startups matter — not just in Chicago but to innovators and investors from coast to coast — here’s my overview of some of the region’s key VC players and an example deal from each of their portfolios. It’s important to note that there are several other under-the-radar Chicago VC firms as well, and I’ll cover them in the second part of this two-part series on VCs of Chicago.

7wire Ventures

A venture firm focused on healthcare, 7wire Ventures has a unicorn in its sights. Livongo Health, which received an $800 million valuation last April, combines data science with behavioral signals to help patients see a positive clinical impact on their chronic health conditions. Founded by Glen Tullman, the former CEO of Allscripts and Managing Partner at 7wire, the startup has a wealth of expertise in not only healthcare but in how to fuel startups to positive exits.

Chicago Ventures

Also creeping toward unicorn status is G2 Crowd, a very high-profile investment for Chicago Ventures. G2 Crowd closed a $55 million Series C last year to help expand the company worldwide. An enterprise software marketplace, the startup is a smart bet for Chicago Ventures. G2 Crowd has dual headquarters, one in the Bay Area, close to top tech talent and venture capitalists, and one in Chicago, close to a huge swath of Fortune 500 companies that can use G2 Crowd to evaluate software. Moreover, the company’s co-founder and CEO Godard Abel has ushered startups to positive exits before.

HPA

Another investment in a repeat entrepreneur is HPA’s backing of Catalytic. Like G2 Crowd’s Godard Abel and Livongo’s Glen Tullman, Catalytic CEO Sean Chou previously helped lead Fieldglass to a $1 billion exit. Catalytic develops people-friendly automation software that frees up humans from working on mundane processes to instead focus on value-add business contributions. Its recent $30 million Series B led by Intel and previous backers like NEA will allow the company to expand globally.

Hyde Park Venture Partners

Hyde Park Venture Partners has made some strong bets in Chicago’s logistics industry, most recently with FourKites. Just last month, the company closed a $50 million Series C round. HPVP was an early believer in FourKites and the company’s ability to achieve its aggressive growth plans. Moreover, FourKites is one of several Midwest-based startups that have received substantial dollars to innovate in the logistics industry.

Jump Capital

Jump Capital, which invests in a wide range of sectors including healthcare and FinTech, kicked off the new year strong by co-leading a $20 million Series C investment in EdTech startup BenchPrep. A platform that allows educators and training program providers to create more engaging learning environments for students, BenchPrep is based in Chicago but also received strong support from coastal investors.

Lightbank

Founded by Groupon co-founders Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell (who’s also the CEO of Uptake), Lightbank continued to back Tempus. Lefkofsky is the CEO of Tempus, a unicorn that  raised a $110 million Series E round last year and is now valued at $2 billion. The Chicago-based healthcare tech startup uses genomic sequencing technology to more successfully battle cancer and will use its new funding to expand to additional illnesses.

Listen Ventures

Also in the healthcare space, Listen Ventures was an early investor of Calm, an app that provides its users meditation techniques that increase mindfulness and help put a focus on mental health. Based in San Francisco, Calm is focused on leveraging technology to make the world healthier and happier. The startup, which reached unicorn status in its latest round announced last month, is a perfect match for Listen, which focuses on consumer products and goods that have a strong focus on branding.

MATH Venture Partners

In a similar “peace of mind” play, MATH Venture Partners recently backed IoT startup Jiobit. Jiobit allows parents to monitor their children’s — and pets’ — locations with a small tracking device and corresponding mobile app. A Chicago-based startup, Jiobit took on $6.5 million of new funding in November of last year.

OCA Ventures

Our last notable investment in the healthcare category is OCA Ventures’ backing of Regroup. Regroup is an integrated telehealth and telepsychiatry startup that is innovating to democratize mental healthcare. The company closed a $5.5 million round of funding last summer to make mental healthcare available to people everywhere via video conferencing.

Origin Ventures

Shifting gears entirely, Origin Ventures invested in social media marketplace startup Cameo last year. Cameo allows users to purchase personalized shoutout videos from their favorite musicians, actors, athletes, and influencers. While Cameo is one of Chicago’s sweetheart startups, the nature of its platform ensures that it has strong connections (including an office) in Los Angeles.

Pritzker Group Venture Capital

Chicago is among the top financial markets, so it’s no surprise that Pritzker Group Venture Capital, one of the city’s most active investors, would be keen on backing a top cryptocurrency startup, Coinbase. Coinbase, a San Francisco-based unicorn that trades digital currency, also opened a Chicago office, where it can grow a technology team in the heart of a strong financial market.

Valor Equity Partners

Finally, we have Valor Equity Partners, which led a $23 million Series C round in San Francisco-based Mode Analytics earlier in February. Mode allows those who rely heavily on data to easily collect, analyze, and share that data through a connected platform. Valor Equity Partners has invested heavily on the coasts, including in well-known, high-tech companies like Tesla and SpaceX.

These notable investments by some of Chicago’s top venture firms highlight the city’s deep strengths, such as healthcare, as well as its broad reach. It’s a strong sign of Chicago’s growing strength that a lot of our capital is being put to work in our own ecosystem and has reached the point of being able to strengthen Bay Area companies as well.

Note: Several of the companies associated with each venture capital firm have received investment from other firms on the list as well. For example, HPA invested in FourKites and Regroup as well.

She wants to make sure your boss won't always be a white guy

She wants to make sure your boss won't always be a white guy

It’s December 2016, and venture capital investor Samara Mejía Hernández tries her hand at op-ed writing with a blog post on LinkedIn. Titled “Why Your Boss Is Still a White Guy,” she takes the tech industry, and particularly the VC world, to task for its stunning lack of diversity — only 2 percent of venture capital-backed startups have women-only boards, while just 1 percent of VC funding goes to people of color, according to First Round Capital’s 2016 State of Startups report. Combining data-based reasoning with cutting asides like “apparently being born without a Y chromosome makes you a better notetaker. Still waiting on the peer-reviewed study,” the post goes viral within 24 hours.

Bootstrapping in America with Troy Henikoff

Co-founder & Managing Director, Troy Henikoff talks about his entrepreneurial path and MATH Venture Partners with Kristi Ross at tastytrade. tastytrade is a real financial network, producing 8 hours of live programming every weekday, Monday - Friday. Experts navigate the markets, provide actionable trading insights, and teach you how to trade.

Which Chicagoans are best at mentoring women?

TROY HENIKOFF

53, managing director, Math Venture Partners; lecturer on entrepreneurship and innovation, Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management

"I love helping entrepreneurs," says Henikoff, founder of SurePayroll.com and co-founder of Excelerate Labs, now Techstars Chicago. "It's awesome to see them succeed." Henikoff requires chemistry in a mentoring relationship. "There needs to be something there—I am passionate about the company or person, and the company has to want to work with me," he says. Honesty is also necessary. "Some people think I'm too tough or trying to be a jerk," he says. "I'm not. I'm trying to help."

Amanda Lannert, CEO of Chicago-based Jellyvision, welcomes "unvarnished truth" from Henikoff. "He will tell you what you need to hear so you can get better," says Lannert, 44. She attributes a third of her network to Henikoff, and says he has sent employees, customers and other advisers her way. He's also helped her with venture pitches, one of which just yielded a $20 million investment in Jellyvision, which creates interactive employee-communication software. "I am a CEO because he was incredibly helpful with advice," Lannert says.

Henikoff mentors via 30-minute open-office appointments every Friday, a service he publicizes via Twitter, and through Techstars Chicago. The heaviest mentoring takes place through Math Venture Partners, where he invests time and ultimately money in startups he'd like to succeed.

Even while mentoring, Henikoff protects his network. One example is the way he handles requests for introductions. Henikoff asks for a forwardable email explaining why a mentee wants that introduction. He then forwards it to the person of interest. "I don't want people to feel obligated," Henikoff says. He sends four to five such emails a day with a success rate of 95 percent to 98 percent. "It's really amazing how this community is open to helping," he says.