Chicago Ventures Student Fellowship

Brett Valentyn, J.D. Candidate 2016
February 2, 2015

Chicago Ventures

Chicago Ventures is an early-stage venture capital firm founded in 2011. In order to help scout new companies to potentially invest in, Chicago Ventures began a student fellowship program last year. The student fellows consist of one representative from each of the following ten Midwest universities: University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, Northwestern University, University of Nebraska, University of Indiana, Miami University (Ohio), Indiana University, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Purdue University and the University of Chicago. Based primarily on my experience with the Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic, I am the Wisconsin student fellow for this 2014-2015 year.

 

As a student fellow for Chicago Ventures, it is my responsibility to look for successful and scalable early-stage startup companies in the Madison area. I perform research, meet with entrepreneurs, and keep tabs on the local entrepreneurship scene. Once or twice a month, I participate in a video conference where I pitch 1-2 of these startup companies that particularly align with the interests of Chicago Ventures. We receive feedback from the Chicago Ventures partners and associates, as well as the other student fellows.

 

Besides being more immersed in Madison’s entrepreneurship scene, one of the primary benefits of the student fellowship program is a trip to the Chicago Ventures offices in Chicago. A few weeks ago, I went to Chicago for a two-day visit with Chicago Ventures at 1871, the massive startup incubator and co-working space in the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago. The first night consisted of a dinner, which gave me the chance to meet some Chicago Ventures staff, as well as the other student fellows. The next morning, we received a tour of the facilities at 1871 and listened to a panel of several founders of Chicago Ventures portfolio companies. In the afternoon, we spoke with Bob Fealy, the Chairman of Chicago Ventures, as well as Kevin Willer and Stuart Larkins, the partners of Chicago Ventures. The other fellows and I also participated in a group exercise in which we assessed whether to invest in some startup companies. Chicago Ventures staff then gave us feedback and described how they evaluate whether to invest or not. We also sat through a pipeline meeting in which the firm discussed how their portfolio companies were doing and which companies they were considering investing in.

 

 

The trip to Chicago Ventures was a great way to learn more about the world of venture capital. I learned how the VCs search for investment opportunities, how they assess these opportunities, and how they collaborate with their portfolio companies to add value. I found their career advice and thoughts on the future of entrepreneurship and investing to be extremely valuable. I also really enjoyed meeting the other student fellows. Most of the other student fellows are entrepreneurs themselves, and several have started accelerators on their campus. I was able to explain what the Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic does, and many of the student fellows were very impressed with the program. Working with Chicago Ventures has been a tremendous experience so far, and I hope to learn more as the year progresses!