Written By: Kelly Bryant
Chicago’s been on fire this summer and I’m not just talking about the insane heat we’ve been experiencing.
Unicorns (companies with billion-dollar valuations) are no longer on the endangered species list in Chicagoland. In fact, according to World Business Chicago, the city has seen the rise of 8 unicorns just this year including Cameo, Project44 and G2. This brings the total number of unicorns in Chicago to nearly 20.
Fun Fact – 199 companies have reached Unicorn status worldwide in just the first 5 months of 2021. For comparison, 163 companies reached that status in ALL of 2020 – thank you Crunchbase for blowing our minds!
So what’s the big idea? When did Chicago suddenly become a safe haven for these magical creatures?
If you ask me, it feels like the result of decades of work with the aim of bringing more resources and opportunity to startups. For example, companies now have access to more funding resources, accelerator programs, dedicated resources for minority founders and the (slow) increase of investors adopting a higher tolerance for risk. Don’t get me wrong – I still hear plenty of Chicagoland entrepreneurs say they want to “head to the coast” to seek funding because Midwest investors are “too cautious”, but I genuinely believe that’s changing – albeit slowly.
Well there’s a lot of factors. In my opinion, the famed efforts of the folks at Groupon and Grubhub have probably helped. They’ve encouraged venture capitalists to push outside of their traditional geographies. I also think the wide-spread adoption of remote work is helping founders get access to tech talent quickly and efficiently (something that used to be a rare commodity here in the Midwest). Moreover, I can’t tell you the number of founders I’ve met this year who “jumped ship” from their corporate roles throughout the pandemic to go ‘all in’ on what was their tech side-hustle. My guess is it’s probably a combination of all of the above and then some.
Bottom line – it’s Unicorn season and will be even more so in the next couple of years! So keep your eyes peeled Chicago – you just might spot (or build) the next one.
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