Top news and looking forward to the week ahead.
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This is your weekly notification of the most share-worthy, news-worthy, and innovative happenings around the Polsky Center at the University of Chicago.

1 // New research from professor Steve Kaplan finds PE managers are still seeking new opportunities for growth and investment.

In a recent study co-authored by Chicago Booth's Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance, and Kessenich E.P. Faculty Director at the Polsky Center, Steve Kaplan, researchers interviewed more than 200 private equity managers from firms with $1.9 trillion of assets under management about their portfolio performance, decision-making, and activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. And what they found signaled an important shift in the mindset of many key PE professionals at this time. According to the report, the private equity managers surveyed believe that 50% of their companies have been unaffected or positively affected by the conditions of the pandemic. But importantly, these private equity managers have also increased their governance and financing across the board, focusing more effort on the companies in their portfolios that have been most severely affected by COVID-19. And while the PE managers reported less optimism than their VC counterparts, they are still seeking new investments and working harder than ever to create more value for each of their companies. Read more now on Kaplan and his co-authors' findings.

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2 // Polsky's innovative "two birds, one stone" solution.

It's no secret that small businesses across the country have struggled to grow, let alone survive, during the COVID-19 pandemic. But luckily for startups and small businesses on Chicago's South and West Sides, Polsky offers a creative solution. The Polsky Small Business Growth Program assigns each small business client with a team of trained UChicago students coached by Chicago Booth faculty, and these student teams design a unique plan for scaling or pivoting a business with step-by-step instructions and best practices each business can implement immediately. And on the flip side, the students receive invaluable hands-on experiential education in what it takes to grow a business, even in the middle of a global pandemic. Just this last summer alone, Polsky's trained student consultants were responsible for 7,000 hours of dedicated assistance and support. Read more now


3 // 50 million. 

That's the number of voters that SNVC '15 winner BallotReady is on track to educate and assist during the upcoming 2020 election. To put that number in perspective, 50 million is more than a third of the total number of voters who showed up to cast a ballot in 2016. The nonpartisan startup was first started as a personal project during the 2014 midterm elections when founder Alex Niemczewski, AB ’09, wanted to create a better way to keep track of the large number of local candidates she didn't know. And now, just six years and two Polsky programs later, she and her cofounder, Aviva Rosman, AB ’10, MPP ’16, have grown BallotReady into an invaluable tool for any voter in all 50 states. Read more now.

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4 // A near $5M raise for NearMe.

Founded by Chicago Booth alum Koichiro Takahara, MBA ’12, Japanese carpooling startup NearMe has just raised a 500M JPY ($4.7M USD) Series A. Originally launched as a door-to-door taxi-sharing service powered by AI, NearMe's latest innovation is a shuttle-sharing service for the airport and other popular destinations. Specifically, this funding will help the business expand its on-demand shuttle service grow in compliance with coronavirus safety measures and restrictions. In addition to high-standard ventilation and regular cleanings, each NearMe shuttle guarantees a limited number (6 or less) of passengers per ride, allowing its customers a combined quicker, cheaper, and safer way of traveling than public transportation or traditional taxi services. Read more now.


5 // Meet this barrier-busting Booth VC.

Booth alum Shruti Gandhi, MBA '12, discovered the prevalence and challenges of venture capital's diversity problem firsthand after founding her own startup as a Chicago Booth student. Bolstered by the input and advice from her Booth professors while participating in the Edward L. Kaplan '71, New Venture Challenge (NVC) and confident her business idea was strong, Gandhi was baffled when she struggled to raise money. It was that experience that motivated her to better understand why the VC industry was making the choices that it was and what she could do to make a difference. She started her venture capital firm, Array Ventures, to create more opportunities for entrepreneurs who typically don’t receive venture funding, often women and people of color, and has since pledged $1M to invest in companies founded by minorities. She explains, "One of my unintentional findings was that VCs love investing in and creating patterns. I learned that I did not fit that pattern, because I did not look like what they looked like. This is when I decided I was going to change and break that pattern.” Read more now.

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6 // Three female UChicago alums named as some of 2020's most notable entrepreneurs.

Crain's recently released its annual list of Chicago's most "Notable Entrepreneurs," and in a year like 2020, any sort of standout success is worth noting doubly. Featured this year among Chicago's brightest entrepreneurial stars are three of our own, each with an incredible story of perseverance and creativity in the face of unexpected and unprecedented challenges. Embodying the kind of entrepreneurship to which all should aspire, we applaud them as much for their grit and determination as for their brilliance. Learn more about Booth alum Susie Hultquist, MBA '00, founder of Spokin, UChicago professor Dr. Stacy Lindau, AM '02, founder of NowPow, and Booth alum Coco Meers, MBA '14, cofounder of Equilibria and former founder of NVC '11 alum PrettyQuick. And see the full list from Crain's now.

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7 // There's a Clear winner here.

Clean engine technology startup, ClearFlame Engine Technologies has just hit the first major milestone on the journey to commercializing its carbon-neutral and high-performance engine tech. During a recent test, the startup was successfully able to match the torque and power of a commercial diesel engine, replacing diesel fuel with simple ethanol and eliminating the need for any additional aftertreatment. This Argonne Chain Reaction Innovations and Polsky I-Corps alum achieved these results using their high-temp "stochiometric combustion process," enabling low-carbon and carbon-negative fuels such as ethanol to be easily integrated into existing diesel engine platforms. This achievement marks a huge win for ClearFlame, the heavy-duty and diesel trucking industry, and the whole planet. Read more now.

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8 // Long live living long.

Booth alums and husband and wife team, Juan Cartagena, MBA '12, and Clara Fernández, MBA '19, cofounded their "longevity tech" startup, Hearts Radiant, to help extend one's "golden years." Different from other biohacking or experimental AI startups on the market right now with similar goals, this Spanish health startup is taking a more natural approach. Their first product, the Rosita Longevity digital coaching app, is designed to give seniors a regimented plan for how best to live a more active, fulfilling, and most importantly, an independent life – even well into their nineties. The idea behind their business model is simple – all that anyone really needs as he or she ages is just guidance and motivation to stay as active as possible for as long as possible, and their app offers an easily-accessible personalized version of just that. Most recently, Hearts Radiant exited stealth mode with a €450K ($528K USD) pre-seed round of funding. Read more now.

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9 // The gig economy's big effect.

In a recent study, a multi-university group of researchers found that the advent of the gig economy in the U.S. resulted in an unintended positive consequence. In addition to making it easier for anyone to get a ride, find a place to stay, and get dinner delivered, the researchers found that U.S. cities saw a spike in entrepreneurship interest and activity following the entrance of gig economy giants like Uber and Lyft. As described in a recent Chicago Booth Review article, the study proposed that this effect could be the result of two different factors: first, that gig work enables potential entrepreneurs to supplement their income while launching a new venture, and second, gig work gives entrepreneurs a sort of income safety net in case their startup fails. In both scenarios, the researchers found that more people are willing to take the leap to become entrepreneurs if gig work is an option for them. Read more now.

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10 // A solution for big data's biggest problem.

When it comes to data science and solutions, bigger is always better. The bigger the data set, the stronger the insights. However, large-scale data collection often comes with large-scale ethical, legal, and technical challenges that have historically prevented the open sharing of data between organizations or research groups...until now. Funded by a $1M National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, UChicago's new Data Stations will solve for each of these challenges by essentially reversing the flow of big data science. Instead of forcing researchers to track down the right dataset and receive permissions for each individual use case, they will now be able to query UChicago's Data Stations in which all privacy and permission protocols have already been automated. Data providers can control everything about how their data is used and viewed, enabling the protection of sensitive information or intellectual property. And data researchers will finally have access to a wide-scale open-sharing database. Read more now.

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The below events will be available online or via Zoom Conferencing.

10/17 - Entrepreneurship Essentials: Marketing Strategy
10/19 - SBIR/STTR Technical Assistance Program
10/19 - Info Session: Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC)
10/19 - Entrepreneurship Essentials: Legal Issues for Startups
10/20 - PE Overview with Polsky IIR Tim Kelly, MBA ’00
10/20 - Scaling Unicorns into Multibillion-Dollar Companies
10/20 - Debate It Forward: Kids Presidential Debate
10/21 - Entrepreneurship Essentials: Digital Tools for Startups
10/22 - Polsky Center Quick Pitches
10/22 - IIR Workshop: How to Build a Strong Investment Thesis
10/26 - Application Deadline: Private Equity Case Challenge (PECC)
10/27 - Entrepreneurship Essentials: Start Your Venture With Low/No-Cost Solutions
10/27 - VC Interview Prep with Dipa Mehta, MBA '12, and Jackie DiMonte, MBA '17
10/28 - New Venture Challenge (NVC) and Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC) Kickoff
10/29 - IIR Workshop: Developing a Network During the COVID-19 Pandemic
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