A KIN Innovation Communities Case Study
Built In Chicago (BIC) is a rapidly growing online community for digital innovators and entrepreneurs in Chicago. Founded by serial entrepreneur Matt Moog in October 2010, the site now boasts over 9,300 members including digital entrepreneurs, investors, technologists, designers, corporate digital innovators and academics. BIC’s mission is to connect, educate and promote the growing digital technology community in Chicago. BIC sees an opportunity to achieve these goals by increasing the statistical probability that entrepreneurs will meet, and connect with, investors, co-founders, mentors, employees and service providers to help them grow their business. BIC accomplishes this by providing a platform for their members to stay current on company launches, funding announcements, events, and job openings across Chicago. BIC hosts member and company profiles, member Q&A forums, an events calendar and job board, as well as providing a platform for original content in the form of blog posts, video and photos. Members are invited to contribute to the site by publishing blog posts or posting questions and challenges to the forum. Content can educate users through sharing lessons learned by the writer, and may also serve to amplify information to a wider arena when an individual chooses to blog about an event that allowed only limited attendance or access.
As of June 2012, BIC had 9,300+ registered members and received over 70,000 visits per month to the site, and has seen this number double every 6 months. The site is focused on growing its user base as well as solidifying connections between stakeholders in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, including corporate partners, academics, investors, government, civic organizations, non-profits, and the entrepreneurs.
Built In Chicago’s promotes community events as well as BIC-coordinated in-person networking activities. Most recently, BIC held the First Annual Moxie Awards where they recognized and promoted individuals and companies across 21 categories, including Startup of the Year, Mentor of The Year, Best Corporate Digital Innovation of the Year, Investor of the Year, and CEO of the Year. In its inaugural year, the Moxie Awards generated an incredible 70,000 votes from the community that accounted for 50% of the vote, along with an all-star judging panel composed of industry leaders who provided the remaining 50% of the vote. The event sold out at 900 attendees.
BIC also hosts a monthly Launch event, where digital startups go to launch on stage to a sold out crowd of nearly 400 attendees. The event showcases the recently launched digital startups and provides a platform for them to pitch and ask the audience for assistance with funding, talent, users, etc., The remaining two to three hours are dedicated to networking in an informal cocktail setting.
BIC has made efforts to actively create micro-communities within the BIC membership. It has created a “Digital Leaders” group that includes 200 of the top CEO/Founders, venture capitalists, academic leaders and executives who lead eCommerce divisions for Chicago’s largest corporations, many of whom work in similar industries and in close geographic proximity but still do not know each other due to Chicago’s dispersed digital community. BIC is also creating educational programs for these leaders, for example, by organizing a panel of the top e-commerce executives to speak to the group about lessons learned or the founder of Siri, telling his story of how he commercialized university research and later sold to Apple. These events offer like-minded entrepreneurs an informal and private forum to speak with each other about similar challenges rather than attending a unilateral conference or educational opportunity with other individuals who may not relate to their experiences.
BIC measures success metrics such as: number of digital startups launched in the Chicagoland area, capital raised, number of exits and IPOs, total employees, etc. to illustrate growth of Chicago’s digital ecosystem. By tracking these metrics over time, as well as BIC’s traffic metrics, the site will be able to see its impact on the community. More deeply, BIC has learned that collaboration can only happen after individuals get to know one another. BIC’s focus on promoting the community and individuals within the community has helped attract members. Access to mentors, industry luminaries and other exposure provides additional incentive for members to join. BIC hosts mentor office hours in partnership with Excelerate Labs and 1871. BIC also enjoys regular posts from successful and seasoned entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to whom young entrepreneurs did not previously have access. These same young entrepreneurs also have the ability on the BIC site to promote their companies and products to press, investors, and other important stakeholders in the group, providing additional incentive to join and participate in the community.
Editor’s Note: This is the tenth in a series of case studies on Innovation Communities being created by the Kellogg Innovation Network here at Innovation Excellence. They would sincerely appreciate it if you would contact them if you know about Innovation Communities that they should consider including in their database. To participate in KIN’s research, please fill out their data form and they will contact you!
Mike Lippitz is a Research Fellow with the Center for Research in Technology and Innovation at the Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Illinois, a Senior Policy Analyst with the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington, DC, and a Principal at Clareo Partners LLC. Prior positions include Special Assistant for Strategic Technology Planning in the Office of Director for Defense Research and Engineering, US Department of Defense and product line manager at Hewlett-Packard Company.