Thursday, October 31, 2019

Congrats to CUBII on Winning the Chicago Innovation Award



Rise Gardens Helps You Grow the Perfect Tomato in Your Living Room

Rise Gardens Helps You Grow the Perfect Tomato in Your Living Room
October 31, 2019

Maintaining a garden in Chicago is difficult. Not only is the region plagued with a short growing season and unpredictable weather, but figuring out how to provide fruits and vegetables with the perfect amount of water, sunlight and nutrients can be confusing.
After becoming frustrated with growing fruits and veggies outdoors, Hank Adams tried his hand at building his own in-home hydroponic system, a device that grows plants in a reservoir of moving water and organic materials.
“It was a really frustrating experience,” Adams said. “It actually took a fair amount of research to figure it out. And what I ended up with was a system that really belonged in my basement.”
The system was “ugly,” he said. “It was nothing I wanted to show off.”

A Rise Gardens system (Photo via Katherine Davis)

But the experience led to Adams launching Rise Gardens, a Chicago startup creating an indoor, IoT-connected hydroponic system that is attractive enough to put in your living room and simple enough for anyone to grow a perfect head of lettuce.
Adams began making prototypes for Rise Gardens in 2017, working out of Chicago startup incubators 1871 and mHub, and began selling the final product in August. Adams is a board member of 1871 and also the former CEO of Sportsvision, a Chicago-based graphics company best known for inventing the yellow first down marker in football broadcasts.
Rise Garden systems can be bought online or in the startup’s pop-up shop at 20 W. Kinzie St., which opened in early October.
The modular system is made out of hardwood and heavy-gage, powder-coated steel. It has a built-in water pump, seed sockets and a programmed LED light system that automatically shifts on and off to give plants the perfect amount of light.
Once consumers purchase their hydroponic system, they are encouraged to subscribe to Rise Gardens’ subscription service, which sends them seed pods every month and gives them access to the company’s mobile app that reminds users when to add water or nutrients. The startup sells seeds for a range of vegetables and herbs, including kale, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, basil and rosemary.
“We’ve made it simple,” Adams said. “If you follow the instructions, it grows really robustly.”
Adams said plants grow 20 percent faster in his system than they could in soil or outdoors, adding that users can expect to grow arugula in 14 days and a head of lettuce in 25 days.

A Rise Garden system (Photo via Katherine Davis)

Though small, counter-top hydroponic systems are common, Adams says Rise Gardens’ large size allows for users to actually grow a significant amount of fresh food.
Since launching, Adams said he has sold 70 systems and is now working with retailers to sell the device in more locations. The system starts at $549 for one level and goes up to nearly $950 for three.
In his own Rise Gardens system at home, Adams grows lettuce, carrots, beets, tomatoes, peppers and strawberries. Often times, he says he uses his produce in homemade salads, pastas and pizzas.
“It’s really nutritious and it tastes great,” Adams said. “Compared to a lot stuff that we’re used to getting in grocery stores, you’re surprised by the taste.”
Hank Adams, founder of Rise Gardens, with his hydropnoic system (Photo via Rise Gardens)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Kaplan Institute Hosts Obama Foundation Annual Meeting - Part Two

Kaplan Institute Hosts the Obama Foundation Annual Meeting - Part One


New INC Magazine Blog Post by Kaplan Institute Exec Director Howard Tullman

Why Mr. Wonderful Banks on Female Founders
He's heard a zillion pitches on Shark Tank. The startups that are most successful do three things well, are more likely to be led by women--and more likely to get his investment money.

Executive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology

We hosted Kevin O'Leary from Shark Tank, aka "Mr. Wonderful", at the Kaplan Institute for a talk and a fireside chat last week in front of about 400 of our student entrepreneurs. He shared some important and serious thoughts about the entrepreneurial journey in general and about his own education as a successful investor in so many different startups (more than 50 in his portfolio as of now). He covered both things he learned through the TV show and, more importantly, some lessons for anyone looking to start or invest in a new business.
Here are a few of the most interesting notes and comments.

1.  It's all about sales and the costs of customer acquisition.
Kevin likes to meet the CEO of a potential investment and ultimately the main players on the management team, but the person he wants to meet first is the head of sales. Because if you don't have sales, you've got nothing. And, if you don't understand what the cost is for your business to attract (CAC) and retain new customers, you're doomed. So, he likes to meet the person who's putting the meat on the table right off the bat.

With the World Series under way, I'm reminded of an old baseball truism: "pitchers in baseball can never win a game, they can only lose it." It's the hitters who get it done. Raising money is easy for a lot of people -- they're great storytellers -- selling customers is much harder because when you make them part with their rubles, that's where the rubber really hits the road.

2.  We're much more brand loyal to consumer products than to tech products.
We may use a favorite laundry detergent or shampoo our whole lives, especially if it's what our parents used, but that kind of loyalty doesn't play in the tech world today, where everyone only wants the latest and greatest. If you show me something that's better, cheaper, faster, easier and available today, I'm yours.  And no one worries a bit about changing horses in midstream as long as switching costs like equipment replacement, re-training, etc. are modest.  

In the software business, it's certainly important to take care of your existing customers. But as I always tell our portfolio companies, the real measurement of your long-term success isn't simply the size of your installed base, it's your ongoing share of installations of your products on new machines and new technology implementations because those are the customers who'll matter the most in the future.

3. Winners on Shark Tank do three things well.
After Kevin had watched zillions of presentations and studied exactly who won and which deals got funded on Shark Tank, three specific attributes of winning pitches emerged.
1.     They could convincingly tell their story in 90 seconds or less.
2.     They demonstrated that they had the right team to execute their plan.
3.     They knew their numbers (backwards and forwards) and they had a full understanding of the economics of their business model.
Everything else was fixable especially with the vast benefits of the exposure these companies received on TV which often drove their customer acquisition costs close to zero.

4. Women make the best startup CEOs.
He said he was a little worried about being accused on being a reverse sexist because such a huge percentage of his investments are made in companies with female CEOs. But here again, he has consistently observed a set of skills and attitudes among these leaders that he even goes so far as to suggest to the other male-led companies in his group. The four skill sets that were most important were:
1.     They have great time management skills. They didn't run around trying to do everything at the same time or taking on too many projects or challenges all at once. They are focused and centered and consistently triaged and re-proritized what they needed to get done in the moment.
2.     They set goals that are achievable and hit those goals far more often than their male counterparts. He said that he encourages this strategy of manageable and somewhat modest targets even at the cost of some rapid growth, because it makes for successful employees, which leads to the third differentiator.
3.     They build company cultures that have lower overall employee turnover, which in turn dramatically reduces their operating costs. Happy workers are healthier, more productive and stick around.
4.     Women executives are simply better listeners.
There was a lot more in the conversation, but these seemed to me to be the key items.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Points and Figures by Jeffrey Carter

Points and Figures

Startups, Markets, Politics  by JEFFREY CARTER

One Way to Help Chicago (and Illinois) to Crawl Out of the Depths of Destruction

A group of people just gave IIT $150MM.    IIT is a small tech-focused school in Bronzeville on the near South Side of Chicago.  You can get there on the Green Line or on the bus.  It’s not too far from where the White Sox play.  The campus has some very elegantly designed buildings.  I was down there the other day picking something up from Howard Tullman.  Howard is running the Ed Kaplan Institute there and I expect like everything Howard does, it will be highly successful at churning out talent and startups.

A couple of years ago, Larry Gies and his wife Beth gave Illinois $150MM.  The Grainger company gave Illinois Engineering $300MM, and Thomas Siebel has consistently donated money to the engineering school over the years.  He credits much of his success to Illinois.

You don’t have to be an alum to donate.  Ken Griffin isn’t an alum of Chicago but he donated to the University of Chicago. 

The University of Chicago has been on a binge to increase endowment and donations.  So has Northwestern.

Why is this important and more importantly, why is this important for Chicago and Illinois?

First, donations ensure the long term health of the school.  They aren’t cheap to operate and while we know there is a bubble in college education these days, the money will help these schools attract top talent.  The bubble is an opportunity, not a bug.  Some colleges will collapse on themselves.  I think that the college ranking system has been too stagnant for too long and there is an opportunity to shake it up.  Money gives colleges the opportunity to do that.

When colleges have financial breathing room, they can innovate.  Look at what Illinois did with it’s MBA program.  Chicago’s Polsky Center came from one donation thanks to Michael Polsky.  Ed Kaplan who also donated to IIT, donated money to Chicago to start the New Venture Challenge.  Look at the opportunities that spun out of that and the way it has raised standards of living for all of society.

How about the city and state?

Chicago and the state of Illinois have a reputation.  Some of it is well earned.  Some of it is just window dressing. I am in LA right now and when I mention that I live in Chicago the first thing people do is mention the weather.  Giving colleges in Illinois money gives them the chance to recruit students from all over and exposes them to what it is really like.  Sure, we have winter in Chicago but so do a lot of other places on the planet.  It’s not as if Boston has a mild winter.  Neither does NYC.  Chicago doesn’t have wildfires and sitting on my daughter’s porch last night we not only smelled one but had some ash raining on us.  We don’t get that in Chicago.

I asked one person if she ever had an Italian beef with giardiniera and she looked at me like I was from Mars.

In an information economy, the biggest asset is talent.  Money and opportunity attract talent.  Right now, the “alpha” in Chicago is not compelling enough to massively attract talent.  Not like LA, NYC, SF or Boston.  We have to continue to invest and build the startup ecosystem to get there.  Important note; this is not about moving slices of pie but it’s about making the entire pie larger.  Chicago getting bigger isn’t going to detract from other places.  Chicago getting bigger is going to be additive to every place.

Over a number of years, I have donated to my alma maters.  I am sure I will again.  I hope you do too.  If you aren’t an alum of Illinois, IIT, Chicago, or Northwestern but you are concerned about the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois, you should write a check to one of them.  Your check will help attract talent, and the professors that can help them make a difference.  Even if it’s a small check, $25 to $100 it makes a difference.  If you have a lot of wealth and can write a larger check, do it.

There is only one way out of this mess.   It’s for the city and state to declare bankruptcy, then fill the pipeline with energized people building startup companies that will create opportunities for all of us

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