Why Join A Tech Accelerator & Why VCs Start Accelerators - Constance Freedman / VC @ Moderne Ventures

Constance Freedman is the Founder and Managing Partner of Moderne Ventures, an early stage venture fund and accelerator investing in technology companies in real estate, mortgage, finance, insurance, and home services. These are multi-trillion dollar industries that make up well over 20% of the US GDP and are ripe for innovation.  Prior to launching Moderne Ventures, Constance was the head of Strategic Investments at the National Association of Realtors where she launched and managed its investment arm, Second Century Ventures (SCV), and founded its accelerator program, Reach. 

In 2014, Constance was recognized by Crain’s Business in its prestigious 40 under 40 award and was also named on Crain’s Chicago Top Tech 50.  In both 2014 and 2015, Constance was recognized on Swanepoel’s Power 200 Most Powerful Individuals in Residential Real Estate and in 2015, named in Inman’s Top 101 in Real Estate.

In This Episode You Will Learn:

  • The most exciting tech developments for Moderne Ventures
  • Why venture capital firms start accelerators
  • How important an accelerator is for the deal flow
  • What the decision making process looks like for the accelerator and investments
  • Where they find the best companies for their accelerator
  • How to break into venture capital
  • How to find the right limited partners (LPs)

Selected Links From The Episode:

What An Ideal Startup Looks Like & Deal Sourcing With A Podcast - Nick Moran / The Full Ratchet

Nick Moran is a co-founder and Managing Director of New Stack Ventures and Moran Capital Partners. He also started the very popular The Full Ratchet podcast, where he interviews venture capital and angel investing experts on successful startup fundraising and investing strategy. Nick asked me to interview him for his 100th episode and I thought the content was so good that I decided to repost it here. 

In This Episode You Will Learn:

  • How Nick got into venture capital
  • Why he started The Full Ratchet
  • His key takeaways after 100 episodes
  • Where he finds his deals
  • What an ideal startup looks like to him
  • What resources he recommends to investors and entrepreneurs
  • Nick's investment thesis and how he evaluates startups for investment
  • The best and worst things about the startup ecosystem in Chicago

Selected Links From The Episode:

Favorite Books: 

 

 

    How To Deal With Bad Press & Competing In The Crowded Coffee Market - Philip Tadros / Founder Doejo & Bow Truss

    Philip Tadros is a true serial entrepreneur and restauranteur. He is the founder of Doejo, a digital agency, Dollop Coffee, a cafe and bakery, Bow Truss Coffee, a coffee roastery and cafe, The Budlong, a hot chicken restaurant chain, SPACE, a co-working space, and Aquanaut Brewing, a craft brewery. He opened his first coffee shop at 19 after dropping out of college and now runs the largest network of independently owned coffee shops in Chicago. 

    Crain's recently ran a special report questioning some of Phil's business practices titled "One of Chicago's most connected entrepreneurs has made more than a few enemies". We dive into what really happened in the second half of this episode and what he's learned from the experience.

    In This Episode You Will Learn:

    • How Phil got his start as an entrepreneur after dropping out of college
    • The differences between the beer and coffee community
    • How he differentiates himself in the competitive food industry 
    • Phil's side of the story on the Crain's special report
    • What he’s learned from the experience
    • How he and his team handled the bad press

    Selected Links From The Episode:

    Favorite Books: 

    Personalized Medicine, 3D Printing, Snapchat & Networking - Dima Elissa / Founder of VisMed3D

    Dima Elissa is the founder and CEO of VisMed3D, a startup providing 3D surgical patient replicas for state-of-the-art treatment and training of doctors. Based in Matter, the startup is on the cutting edge of personalized medicine. In addition to her startup, Dima devotes considerable time, energy, and guidance to other women entrepreneurs. 

    In This Episode You Will Learn:

    • How Dima decided to pursue 3D printing 
    • How Dima landed her first partnership with big healthcare
    • What the best bang for you buck networking is
    • The value in 3D printing for surgeons
    • What the future of medical 3D printing looks like
    • The value in snapchat for her company
    • What to watch out for as a first time founder

    Selected Links From The Episode:

    Favorite Books: 

    Artificial Intelligence, Healthcare Startups, Wearables & Diversity - Star Cunningham / Founder of 4DHealthware

    Star Cunningham is the Founder and CEO of 4DHealthware, a startup that provides artificially intelligent "nudges", SMS and email messages, to patients with chronic conditions based on data collected via 250 wearable devices like bluetooth glucometers and activity trackers. Medicare now reimburses healthcare providers $40 per patient per month for every 20 minutes spent managing care outside a doctor’s office and 4DHealthware interactions count. Star has raised $770,000 to date and is on the verge of becoming the 12th African American woman ever to secure more than a million dollars in venture funding for her tech startup. Before founding, 4DHealthware, Star was at IBM for about 10 years. 

    In This Episode You Will Learn:

    • Why Star decided to found a company after working in big business
    • How she landed the first partnerships in healthcare
    • The power of nudging people in the right direction
    • The future of wearables and artificial intelligence
    • How to get more diversity in tech
    • The importance of getting young black girls into tech
    • What she thinks about diversity quotas
    • When founders should start thinking about diversity

    Selected Links From The Episode:

    Favorite Book: 

    Investing In Design-Led Companies & What Chicago Tech Is Missing - John Roa / AKTA & Roa Ventures

    John Roa is a serial tech entrepreneur and long time Chicagoan. He got his entrepreneurial start by creating a computer repair business at 14 and hasn't stopped since. Last year, he sold ÄKTA, his tech-consulting and design firm, to Salesforce.  Now John is planning to invest in other Chicago startups via Roa Ventures, a fund that focuses on "early-stage investments, projects and experiments". He has also created the non-profit, Digital Hope, and enjoys playing competitive poker and traveling extensively. 

    In This Episode You Will Learn:

    • How John got started as an entrepreneur
    • Why he started AKTA and where the name comes from
    • What John attributes the success of AKTA to
    • How John made the the decision to sell AKTA? 
    • If he would take venture capital if he could do it again
    • Problems he sees in taking venture capital
    • Why he's investing instead of starting another startup
    • John's criteria for his next startup
    • What draws John to travel? He has been to 50+ countries. 
    • How to build a brand as a new angel investor?
    • Similarities between poker and startups
    • What Chicago tech is good at & what we could improve on
    • Why John doesn’t believe in giving advice

    Selected Links From The Episode:

    Favorite Book: 

    Livestreaming, Virtual Reality, E-Sports & Hiring Your Biggest Critic - Stu Grubbs / Founder of Infiniscene

    Stu Grubbs is a Co-Founder and CEO of Infiniscene, a startup building the easiest way to livestream video. They enable gamers, and now Facebook and Youtube streamers, to easily create beautiful live broadcasts in their web browser without any experience or expensive hardware. As Stu mentions during the show, a lot of Chicago startups are new tech solving old problems so it is awesome to to have a startup empowering live streamers being built here. It is definitely both a cutting edge problem and solution. 

    In This Episode You Will Learn:

    • How difficult it is to setup a lifestream today
    • Why quality will always be the differentiator with content creators
    • How big e-sports is today? Hint: a lot bigger than you think
    • How e-gamers make more money on content then competition
    • What Infiniscene got out of Techstars
    • Why starting a company is the real way to see if you are good at something
    • How a landlords faith in him allowed Infiniscene to survive
    • What kept him going when he was penniless
    • How he ended up hiring his biggest critic
    • Whats the most exciting stuff he saw at E3
    • How live streaming may work in virtual reality
    • How they have developed culture early in the company
    • The importance of one-on-one's for culture
    • Why they founded Infiniscene in Chicago
    • Why every call should be a video call on a distributed team
    • Why he looks for cultural fit first when hiring

    Selected Links From The Episode:

    Favorite Books: 

    The Future Of Food Tech & How To Raise $100k In Your First Day On Kickstarter - David Rabie / Founder of Tovala

    David Rabie is the Founder and CEO of Tovala, the creator of a smart oven that cooks perfectly made meals by baking, boiling and steaming them in under 30 minutes. The meals can either be delivered prepackaged from Tovala or be made using a crowdsourced recipe. Last winter, Tovala graduated from Y-Combinator and a few months ago Tovala launched a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $255,603 with over 1,000 backers. Before starting Tovala, David was an MBA at Chicago Booth, and he worked for the co-founder and CEO of Veggie Grill and ran Groovy Spoon – a bi-coastal chain of frozen yogurt stores. He also spent time working at Google and Foundation Capital. 

    In This Episode You Will Learn:

    • Why he decided to pair food delivery with a smart oven
    • How they came up with the name Tovala
    • How David found his first engineer
    • How they decided on the price of the oven and the food
    • How they prepared for their successful Kickstarter campaign
    • What they got out of Y-Combinator? 
    • Why they decided to come back to Chicago after Y-Combinator?
    • Why he wishes he had found a co-founder earlier
    • How to test for cultural fit and avoid mishires
    • The importance of establishing connections with VCs before you need money

    Selected Links From The Episode:

    Favorite Books: 

    How To Decide If Your Idea Is Worth Pursuing & How To Sell Your Product - Landon Shoop / Co-Founder of Fizz

    Landon Shoop, along with his wife Jennifer Shoop, started Fizz, a team management tool that makes developing employees easy. At his old job, Landon became frustrated while preparing for another yearly performance review and he decided there must be something better. Together they developed a HR tech platform that allows for real-time employee/employer feedback. Landon and Jennifer haven't raised any outside money yet, but they already have some impressive traction. It was great to talk product with promising entrepreneurs just getting started. 

    In This Episode You Will Learn:

    • How to decide whether your idea is worth pursuing
    • How to sell your product
    • Why they decided to build upon Slack
    • How they came up with the name? Hint: Focus is your scarcest resource
    • How they approach work/life balance as a husband/wife founding team

    Selected Links From The Episode:

    Favorite Books: 

    Social Impact, Helping Clinton Beat Trump & Engaging Communities - Michael Slaby / Founder of Timshel

    Michael Slaby is the Founder and Head of Mission of Timshel, a startup that has developed a platform called The Groundwork to give organizations and brands more powerful digital tools to analyze all the data they are producing, help them organize supporters, get their message out, and raise money. According to Federal Election Commission records, Hillary Clinton has spent almost $500,000 on Timshel’s services since announcing her candidacy last year. Before starting Timshel, Michael was the CTO of Obama for America in 2008 and Obama’s Chief Integration Officer in 2012,  overseeing the campaign's integration of technology, digital strategy, and analytics. 

    In This Episode You Will Learn:

    • How an "argument of violent agreement" got Michael into politics
    • The differences between the 2008 election and 2012 election
    • What the team took from the 2012 campaign to Timshel
    • How Timshel balances being a for profit company and having a social mission
    • How Timshel is helping Hillary Clinton's campaign
    • Why they started a podcast
    • Why we need to improve the availability of early stage capital here in Chicago (None of Timshel's investors are from here)
    • Why Michael thinks Chicago has a bright future in impact analytics
    • How entrepreneurs can balance the line between optimism and insanity

    Selected Links From The Episode:

    Favorite Books: 

    Working with Obama, Empowering Non-Profits, & How Bands Are Like Startups - Jason Kunesh / Co-Founder of Public Good

    Jason Kunesh is a co-founder and CEO of Public Good Software, a startup aiming to make donating to non-profits as easy as ordering something on Amazon. Before starting PGS, Jason was the Director of UX for Obama's 2012 reelection campaign and part of the founding team at The Point, which later became Groupon. Jason is also a member of the adjunct faculty at the Starter School, owner of the best Fu Manchu in Chicago, a mentor at Impact Engine, and an advisor to the American Design and Master-Craft Initiative and UX for Good.

    In This Episode You Will Learn:

    • How he got involved in the Obama campaign?
    • What it is like demoing your product for the president?
    • What the team learned on the Obama campaign and then applied at Public Good?
    • Why charities for animals outperform charities for the homeless?
    • Why non-profits are scared of innovation?
    • How he got into tech? 
    • Why you should be public about your failures?
    • Why Chicago is the best place to start a non-profit focused company?
    • What we need to to do to take Chicago tech to the next level?
    • How startups are like bands?
    • How to get a team to work together? Hint: Encourage transparency/dialogue/dissent
    • Why you really have to understand your motivations as a founder?

    Selected Links From The Episode:

    Favorite Books: 

     

    How To Land A Job At A Startup & The Biggest Mistake 1st Time Founders Make - Gale Bowman / Founding Director of Irish Angels

    Gale Bowman is the founding director of Irish Angels, an angel network dedicated to early stage investments in which a founder, board member, or active investor is a student, graduate, parent, or faculty member of the University of Notre Dame. After graduating from business school in 2012, Gale launched Irish Angels and has since grown the angel network to 150 investors and invested $10 million in seed and Series A investments. 

    In This Episode You Will Learn:

    • Where Irish Angels sources their best deals?
    • What is the biggest mistake that first time founders make? 
    • What is the future of university-affiliated angel networks/vc funds?
    • What are the benefits of an angel network over a venture capital fund?
    • What an ideal founding team looks like? 
    • What abilities an ideal CEO has? Hint: Sales and Metrics
    • What a typical week looks like for VC/angel network director? 
    • How to land your first job at a startup? 
    • How build relationships in the startup community?

    Favorite Book: How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

    Selected Links From The Episode:

    Bootstrapping To 300+ Employees & Offices On 3 Continents - Craig Vodnik / Co-Founder Of Cleverbridge

    Craig Vodnik is a co-founder of Cleverbridge, a global subscription billing provider. Founded in 2005, Cleverbridge has grown to 300+ employees with offices in Cologne (Germany), Chicago, San Francisco and Tokyo. They have done this all without raising any outside money. At the beginning of his career in 1995, Craig served as the Webmaster of the Chicago Tribune, where he launched its first website. Outside of Cleverbridge, Craig helps develop other entrepreneurs as a mentor at 1871, Catapult Chicago, Junto Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Enterpriseworks Entrepreneur-In-Residence and as a board member of Hyde Park Angels.

    In This Episode You Will Learn:

    • How they maintain their company culture with offices in different countries? 
    • Why you should bootstrap for as long as you can?
    • When is the right time to take venture capital?
    • Why we need more risk taking in Chicago?
    • What fantasy football can teach you about business?
    • How to go about finding and cultivating mentors?
    • Why he decided to join Hyde Park Angels and become an angel investor?

    Favorite Books:

    Selected Links From The Episode:

    How To Steal Business Away From Multi-Billion Dollar Competitors - Jacob Babcock / Founder of NuCurrent

    Jacob Babcock is the founder and CEO of NuCurrent, a wireless power company that has designed the world's fastest, smallest, and most efficient wireless power antennas. If you have ever wondered why we still have to deal with all these charging cables, this is the podcast for you.

    In This Episode You Will Learn:

    • How Jacob made the transition from law school to founder of a very technical startup?
    • What a future with wireless power will look like? 
    • How NuCurrent is stealing business away from multi-billion dollar competitors? 
    • Chicago's storied history as the birthplace of wireless power
    • How to test if someone will make for a good startup employee? 
    • The one big thing he wishes he knew when he started NuCurrent

    Favorite Books:

    Why Pornographers & Criminals Make For Great Customers & Chicago Tech History - Jeff Carter / VC at Hyde Park Angels & West Loop Ventures

    Jeff Carter is a co-founder of Hyde Park Angels, one of the most active angel groups in the United States, and he is currently raising a VC fund, named West Loop Ventures. Before becoming an angel he was a trader for over 25 years and he continues to trade independently. 

    In This Episode You Will Learn:

    • How Hyde Park Angels started?
    • Why traders make for good angel investors?
    • Why having pornographers and money launderers latching on to your product early is a great sign? 
    • Why it has been easier to find LPs for West Loop Ventures outside of Chicago? 
    • Why you have to be a great analyzer of people and not just ideas for seed investing?
    • Why it's important to have a vision for the future as a seed investor?
    • Why VCs can bet on ideas, but angels have to be on people?
    • Why being coachable is so important for entrepreneurs?
    • How an entrepreneur/investor relationship is like dating? 
    • Why he makes a point of blogging everyday?
    • What we have to do to keep growing the Chicago tech scene? 

    Favorite Blogs:

    Favorite Books:

    Selected Links From The Episode:

    How Clean Eating Helped Beat Chronic Illness & Launch Her Startup - Katlin Smith / Founder of Simple Mills

    Katlin Smith is the founder of Simple Mills, a food startup that only uses simple, whole food ingredients. While working as a consultant, Katlin discovered she had a gluten-sensitivity and started experimenting with her almond-flour baking mixes on the weekends.  Shortly after launching her almond flour muffin mix, it became the best selling muffin mix on Amazon. Simple Mills is now in over 2,000 stores nationwide, including in Whole Foods and Mariono's in Chicago. 

    In This Episode You Will Learn:

    • How she came up with the idea for Simple Mills?
    • Why it's important to be the "chief sales officer" as the founder of a startup?
    • Why she started with baking mixes?
    • Why nuts are so expensive?
    • What she loves about being an entrepreneur?
    • What the process is like to bring a new food product to market? 
    • How she has found and cultivated her advisors? 
    • How the challenges of being a founder change as your startup grows?
    • How she approaches getting into new stores?
    • Why she thinks Chicago is the easiest city to network in? 

    Favorite Books:

    Miscellaneous Things Mentioned:

    From Professional Poker Player To Chicago's Fastest Rising VC - Ezra Galston / Chicago Ventures

    Ezra Galston is a VC at Chicago Ventures. At CV, Ezra focuses on consumer facing investment and is actively involved with BloomNation, Kapow Events, Luxury Garage Sale, Shiftgig, SpotHero, Zipments, and Havenly. He writes one of my favorite VC blogs at BreakingVC.com and his thoughts on startups have also been published in the Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and Re/code. Before becoming a venture capitalist, Ezra was a professional poker player and the Director of Marketing for CardRunners Gaming. 

    In This Episode You Will Learn:

    • How Ezra got into angel investing? 
    • What motivates Chicago Ventures?
    • What's the one question every founder should ask of their VCs?
    • Why Ezra prefers growing a business over starting one?
    • Where Ezra sources his investments from?
    • Why producing content as a VC is important? 
    • How they look for outliers in the entrepreneurs they back?
    • How Ezra finds and cultivates his mentors? Hint: cold emailing 
    • Why Ezra thinks e-commerce companies are underestimated?
    • What Ezra wishes he knew when he first got into the venture industry?
    • Why some venture capital investments never get announced?
    • Why Ezra thinks Chicago is so good at building great business? 
    • What we can do to make Chicago even better for startups? 

    Favorite Books:

    E-Commerce Companies:

    Investors Ezra Admires:

    Miscellaneous Things Mentioned: 

    Building A New Media Company & Why Critical Feedback Is The Best - Neal Rothschild / Founder of Rooster

    Neal Rothschild is the founder of Rooster, a 6-minute daily podcast that updates you on all the news you need to know. Neal just launched Rooster at the beginning of this year and it was great to interview a founder just getting started on a really promising startup. Neal initially came up with the idea while walking back and forth to the school he was teaching at in Romania. Before Rooster, Neal was also a journalist with pieces published in the New York Times and USA Today. 

    In this episode we cover:

    • Why he decided audio is the most effective and efficient way to get information?
    • How he landed on the name Rooster?
    • Why critical feedback is the best feedback? 
    • What the process is like producing a daily podcast?
    • How he stays on top of all the news in the world? Hint: Twitter lists

    Neal’s Idols in New Media: 

    Neal’s Favorite Books: 

    Raising Money In A Down Market & Disrupting The Eye Exam Industry - Aaron Dallek / Opternative

    Aaron Dallek is a serial entrepreneur and founder of Opternative - the world’s first online eye exam. The exam can be taken from anywhere, at anytime, and a doctor issued prescription can be used to shop everywhere. The exam only takes 25 minutes and a digital prescription is delivered in 24 hours or less. 

    In this episode we cover:

    • How to raise money in the current down market - In February 2016, Opternative closed their Series A ($6 million) from Jump CapitalChicago VenturesPritzker GroupTribeca Venture PartnersCorazon Capital, and NextGen Partners.
    • How they built an online eye exam that rivals the traditional phoropter
    • How to recruit the best talent against larger companies with deeper pockets
    • Why you have to take things one step at a time as an entrepreneur

    Aaron’s Favorite Book: The Art of the Start 2.0: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything by Guy Kawasaki