In 2006, a group of my fellow UChicago MBA students and I began forming the plans for an angel group in Chicago. It had been tried and most groups had failed. We affiliated with the University of Chicago, and in April of 2007 Hyde Park Angels launched. At the time, the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Chicago was pretty small. It was also stagnant.
It was hard for entrepreneurs to cobble together a seed round of financing. HPA changed that. We made it efficient. We aligned economic incentives. In addition, because we were working with a major university, we were able to bring to bear some of the resources of that university to help aid the group and the companies we worked with.
In 2010, I began talking with some Notre Dame alums about their group, Irish Angels. They wanted to re-energize the group. Yesterday, they held their first meeting. Already they are ahead of where HPA started. 60 angels. We initially had a difficult time recruiting angels because it was so foreign to Chicago.
I am extremely happy ND is joining the fray. More is better. I know of another school that is looking at starting an angel group-and they should. They would bring a different dimension to the community. That’s what this is all about. Creating depth and layers. If your school is interested in talking about starting one, I am happy to chat. Next week I will be talking to a couple of classes at Notre Dame. Thursday night, I hope to hold some office hours on campus, or just have a lecture hall where anyone interested about what’s going on in the midwest can ask questions and we can interact with each other.
Notre Dame is doing some things differently than HPA. That’s great! They are putting their own unique DNA into the process. I think it is important if you are going to affiliate with a school that some of the schools culture gets infused in the organization. We were cognizant of that at HPA. One of the things the Irish Angels are going to use is Notre Dame’s national network to help out their entrepreneurs. There aren’t any better alumni network than Notre Dame’s. It’s powerful. But their use of it benefits the local ecosystem too. It’s a virtuous circle. While HPA has been successful so far, it’s really important for university affiliated groups to think about how they are going to be supported. Notre Dame has done that and will put a unique ND stamp on how it does certain things.
Ironically, the Irish Angels ran into some of the same bureaucratic roadblocks we ran into! So some things across angel groups are common. I had to laugh when they were discussing them at their meeting. Bob Okabe helped HPA get its footing, and he was there yesterday too.
The other point that Notre Dame validates is the Chicago/Midwestern entrepreneurial ecosystem. It’s here. It’s growing. It’s viable. It’s exciting. Since HPA opened it’s doors, Northwestern and Notre Dame have started angel groups. Harvard has brought an angel group to the city. Illinois has an entrepreneurship program. IIT has their entrepreneurship program. 1871 started, and The Coop is expanding throughout the city. Entrepreneurs can raise seed round capital in the city of Chicago.
Depth of the ecosystem is important. Today I am going to Harold Washington Community College to interact with a bunch of entrepreneurs there. It’s critical to get all levels firing. Once we get momentum, this thing will be hard to turn around.
It’s time to build what will be next.