1871 and The Domino Effect
By Heidi Brown, co-founder of Options Away
A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a dozen women in tech when I got a text from someone on the 1871 marketing team. She was looking for three entrepreneurs to represent 1871 on a panel moderated by the Pritzker group. The audience would consist of hundreds of large donors at a national convention, most of whom were not from Chicago or generally associated with the startup world.
A topic that emerged from the panel discussion was “How does 1871 help emerging companies?” In order to best explain the impact 1871 has had on my business, I proceeded to tell them about what my past few weeks have looked like.
Side note: guest posting on this blog is a great opportunity for me to document my panel answer, mostly so that years from now I can look back at this time and remember what the landscape looked like just a few short weeks post-launch.
I began my answer with the day that the Options Away team was notified that we’d been selected to compete in Piranha Tank as part of Chicago Ideas Week. Companies from all over Chicagoland were nominated and all four finalists were fellow 1871 companies. Our team took home first prize that day. First prize! We were presented with a four-foot long check, however, the real value was the buzz created by it.
One of the judges, a well-known local venture capitalist, stood up and said, “I love this!” A journalist from the Chicago Tribune quoted him, and interviewed our CEO. More journalists followed suit after that. Then, the host of Piranha Tank, and one of Chicago’s most sought after early-stage investment groups, invited us to present Options Away at their office the following week. Quite a ride.
And then the dominos really began to spill…
Options Away was one of the first companies to join 1871 in May 2012. Back then, we approached most of the angel groups in and around Chicago with not much more than an idea, small team, and some code. Responses were predictable and unanimously “cool concept, too early, come back when you’ve launched.” However, timing with Piranha Tank could not have been better. Our product, which allows you to lock in the price of flights, became available to consumers just a few weeks prior. The press we received from the competition resulted in a totally new phenomenon for our team. Investors were calling us. The week following Piranha Tank, we pitched to three major investment groups, all with offices located in 1871. Our team joked about the confusing calendar entries like “Chicago Ventures in Lightbank” and “Origin Ventures in Sandbox”. These phrases would sound ridiculous elsewhere, but at 1871 we are privileged to have such convenient access to funding sources.
1871 was designed to be a powerful catalyst. And it’s been very successful in its pursuit. Also valuable are the spontaneous moments that only exist in such environments. A few weeks ago while walking through the reserved section in 1871, Mayor Emanuel came over and sat on the corner of my desk and asked me what I was working on. (Will something come out of the conversation? Perhaps, but it’s for sure one of the moments I wish to remember.)
Without a doubt the concentration of resources and like-minded folks at 1871 produces faster, richer outcomes. Just last week, we were in Boston hanging out with one of the most prestigious venture capital groups in the county. That meeting was the result of a phone call made from another Piranha Tank judge. Being hot in the travel space, this particular VC group will be heading down to Fort Lauderdale this week for the nation’s largest travel industry conference. Me? I cleared my schedule, booked a flight on my own website, and hopped on a plane to Florida. I am writing this from 35,000 feet above ground, excited about the week ahead and pondering where the next few dominos may fall.