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.
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.
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.
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.
Troy Henikoff was a college student in 1984 when he wrote his first program, a piece of software to help his grandfather’s steel warehouse manage their inventory. That summer project led Troy to start his own software consulting business a couple years later. This is an atypical Distance story about beginnings, endings and unexpected legacies.
Troy Henikoff is an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, lecturer at Kellogg School of Management, and founder of Techstars Chicago. I recently had the opportunity to talk to him about whether the ability to become a successful entrepreneur is predetermined at birth.
“In hindsight I was always an entrepreneur, but didn’t realize it. When I was young, I had a love of sailing, and dreamed of owning a sailboat. So I cut lawns, washed cars; delivered newspapers. By the time I was ten, a friend of mine and I bought our first sailboat with the money we made.