All Systems Go for Midwest Venture Summit

The dot-coms that dominated venture capital conferences here in 1999 and 2000 are gone.

Still, an organizer of new Midwest Venture Summit, a merger of two separate VC meetings scheduled for April 29, said tech isn’t dead here.

Howard Wolinsky
Chicago Sun Times

Mark Glennon, chairman of the committee organizing the conference sponsored by Illinois Venture Capital Association, the trade group for Chicago’s most active VCs, said the summit will have a record number of presenting companies, and predicted a larger turnout of investors than previous individual conferences.

The Midwest Venture Summit is a merger of the Illinois Venture Capital Conference and the Great Lakes Venture Capital Conference that had emerged during the dot-com boom. With the downturn in the economy and the logistics of forming a new group, neither conference has been held in a year and a half.

Glennon said organizers attempted to cast a broader net than in the past to attract companies throughout the Midwest and to go beyond the tech companies in Illinois. He said that 26 companies qualified for the April 29 program out of about 60 applicants. Previous conferences typically featured 14 to 18 presenting companies.

Glennon, vice president of Leo Capital Holdings in Northbrook, said 17 of the companies are from Illinois and only one is not a tech company.

"There are nine life-sciences companies, the largest concentration," Glennon said. "That’s fairly close to the distribution of how venture capital is falling these days. We have a smattering of wireless, Internet and enterprise software companies. We no longer have a concentration of dot-coms, though many companies today have a Web component in their businesses. "

Despite the push for nanotech in the Chicago area, Glennon said, no nano start-ups even applied to present at the meeting. "That may be because the established nanotech companies already have been through public forums," he said.

During the conference, leaders of young companies that already have seed money and most of their management team in place will make 10-minute presentations to an audience of VCs in hopes of finding investors. Companies selected to participate are coached by experts in how to make effective pitches.

Glennon said the group hopes to have more than 500 attendees at the conference at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers compared with the 400 who typically attended past conferences. Attendees pay $295. For information on the conference, go to

Glennon said the conference for the first time will have a track of programs on tech transfer from universities. He said the presenters include Motorola, Battelle/ NASA, Caterpillar, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, Purdue University and IllinoisVentures from the University of Illinois.

Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics, who is featured in the best-selling book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis, will be the keynote speaker. Glennon said Beane has "earned the envy and respect" of many in the business world for fielding winning teams "with a lousy budget. There are many parallels between the worlds of baseball and venture capital."

Glennon said the timing of the conference is good: "There is no question that there has been an uptick on [venture capital] activity in the first quarter. More term sheets have been submitted, more deals are being closed and there are more successful exits of venture-backed companies."

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