On the Scene
Jim O'Connor announces the winners./photo courtesy 1871/Greg Rothstein 0

It was like Vegas–neon lights, open collars and big wins

October 6th, 2016

It felt a little Vegas at the annual awards banquet honoring Chicago entrepreneurs.

Neon lights splashed across the crowd at Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel and a voice like Michael Buffer introduced Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the stage. He congratulated the tech community on its successes and for raising Chicago’s stature on the start-up scene.

Men in the ballroom channeled Mel Gibson with their open-collared shirts and stylish jackets–including Gov. Bruce Rauner, venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker and Jack Sandner, the longtime chairman of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

It wasn’t all cazh.

Jim O’Connor Jr.  stood proud in a tie–and rightly so. A ballroom of more than 800 guests was glued to the board chairman of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC) as he announced this year’s winners. They are:

Independent real estate brokerage firm @properties received the Merrick Momentum Award. And Civis Analytics received the Merrick “Rising Star” Momentum Award, which recognizes a company less than 5 years old. Civis focuses on data-driven strategies and was born out of President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign.

The CEC puts on the event each year to benefit 1871–home to nearly 500 up-and-coming tech companies.

The awards, sponsored by Merrick Ventures, have in the past elevated the status of recipients. Some past honorees: Avant, kCura, Braintree, GrubHub, Eved, and SAVVO. Braintree, for example, went on to be acquired by PayPal for some $800 million.

Finalists for the 2016 awards included SpotHero, Uptake, Learnmetrics, Rise Interactive and Caremerge.

Jai Shekhawat accepted the Entrepreneurial Champion Award. Champion indeed–his Fieldglass company sold for $1 billion in 2014. And Jessica Droste Yagan accepted the Chicagoness Award. She’s the CEO of Impact Engine, a venture fund that invests in start-ups focused on improving education, health and economic empowerment.

Seen in the crowd: Donna Zarcone, the president and CEO of the Economic Club, entrepreneur Mark Tebbe; and Carl Allegretti, chairman and CEO of Deloitte Tax LLP . 1871 CEO Howard Tullman introduced the mayor to guests. 1871 COO Tom Alexander introduced guests to his dad, who was visiting from out of town. And everyone wanted to visit with Sam Yagan and Pritzker, who both just came off big VC deals. Yagan just announced his venture fund has raised $37 million, and Pritzker just saw the sale of one of his big investments–Viv, a system reportedly more powerful than Siri.

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