Friday, October 10, 2014

Tech community steps out to honor Segals at Momentum Awards
Tech community steps out to honor Segals at Momentum Awards
October 10, 2014

Crate & Barrel founder Gordon Segal
Even the most successful entrepreneurs often make rookie mistakes.
While being honored for their accomplishments by the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, Carole and Gordon Segal, founders of retailer Crate & Barrel, surprised the crowd with a couple of humbling tales about the company's early days.
The Segals received the Entrepreneurial Champions Award at the annual fundraiser for the CEC, which operates the 1871 incubator for tech startups at the Merchandise Mart. J.B. Pritzker, who helped launch the CEC, praised the Segals for “bringing parts of the world to Chicago and bringing parts of Chicago to the world.”
Ms. Segal recalled the company's roots, when they were 23-year-old newlyweds fresh out of Northwestern University, and came up with a business idea after discovering the simple, sophisticated and inexpensive housewares of the Scandinavian Design Shop in St. Thomas.
“We didn't know anything about profit margins or anything else,” she said. “We could have used 1871.”
Her husband, Gordon, recalled: “We needed $20,000” to start the business. “We had $10,000, so I went around offering 50 percent of the company for the other $10,000,” which drew gasps from the venture capitalists and entrepreneurs in the audience at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel. “Luckily, I never found anyone who would invest.”
The Momentum Awards attracted a broad mix of entrepreneurs from 20-somethings to old-school entrepreneurs who were doing startups before it was cool.
KCura Corp., a fast-growing maker of legal software, won the Merrick Momentum Award, which spotlights one of the city's fastest-growing tech startups. Michael Ferro, founder of venture firm Merrick Ventures and founder of the awards dinner, gave an enthusiastic presentation, channeling Howard Dean, when he reminded the crowd that Chicago tech startups aren't a recent phenomenon. “This is not a new thing,” he said. “We've been doing this for 15 years.”
He also gave a shout-out to former Mayor Richard M. Daley for his support of tech startups and emphatically proclaimed that Crate & Barrel, despite being best known as a retailer, is a “tech company.”
Motorola Mobility won the Corporate Champion award for its support of entrepreneurs and startups. The company, which recently moved its headquarters into the Merchandise Mart, is a backer of an accelerator for women-run tech startups that's set to launch at 1871. It also has partnered with startups under a program launched by Gov. Pat Quinn's Innovation Council called the Corporate/Startup Challenge.

CEO Howard Tullman noted that 1871's 25,000-square-foot expansion at the Merchandise Mart will open next week "on time and on budget,” two things not often associated with Chicago construction projects.

Follow John on Twitter at @JohnPletz.

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