Last week, my ESTEEM classmates and I were lucky enough to go on a startup and innovation tour of Chicago. To begin the day, we departed South Bend at 6:45 am via coach bus for the 90-mile drive west. Our first host was Doblin, a division of Deloitte that focuses on helping clients reach their innovation goals. The opposite of a prototypical corporate atmosphere, Doblin’s offices were open layout with plenty of room for discussions and group work. Several Notre Dame and ESTEEM alumni took us on tours around their office (with great views of Chicago) and described to us a typical day of work.
After our time at Doblin, the Notre Dame contingent was ferried over to 1871. 1871 is a Chicago based incubator with roughly 140,000 square feet of space available for startups. In 1871, we met with two employees at Chicago Ventures, a Chicago based VC firm, and an engineer from the startup Cameo. The venture capitalists gave the cohort a fascinating presentation on what venture capital funds look for when investing in startups. VCs don’t just look for good companies, they look for companies with incredible growth potential. The investors fully expect some companies in their portfolio to disappear, but even if only a few explode, the investor can make a huge return. The engineer from Cameo explained to the ESTEEMers that his company was attempting to monetize celebrity interactions by creating a platform for celebrities to deliver personalized messages to fans.
From 1871, we departed to SRAM, a bike parts manufacturer. Here, the ESTEEM class was able to walk through the actual product development process of a bike part. We learned how the designers and engineers worked together to create the most innovative and desirable bike part possible. After the designers and engineers finished with a part it was passed on to quality control who subjected the parts to an incredible litany of tests to ensure that they would not fail no matter what the circumstances. Given the wide range of environments in which bikes are used (mountain tops to desert roads) the quality control is incredibly strenuous and helped me realize how much work goes into a product before the consumer gets his or her hands on it. An added perk of visiting SRAM was getting to tour an incredible office space. The firm shares a building with Google so, as one can imagine, the building was beautiful, and the office offered one of the coolest vibes I have experienced.
Next, our bus took us to Telnyx, a telecommunication startup that is attempting to disrupt the traditional telecommunication industry and bring telephone calls fully into the 21st century. ESTEEM has sent several graduates to work at Telnyx over the past few years and they were gracious enough to spend some time speaking with the current ESTEEM class. It was clear that they are thriving at Telnyx and it is incredibly exciting to see our peers’ successes in an actual startup environment.
Finally, we headed to Notre Dame’s Chicago building. Our home away from the dome served as location for our final lecture and a fun group dinner. Nathan Bard, a Notre Dame alum who is currently the chief growth officer at ATI Physical Therapy, gave a fascinating talk on growing companies and discerning a career path. Following Nathan’s speech, the ESTEEM class was given the opportunity to chat with Nathan as we enjoyed some Giordano’s pizza. Several recent ESTEEM alums stopped by during dinner and gave some advice on how to make the most of our remaining four months at Notre Dame.
Throughout the day, the cohort was exposed to many experiences that show just how special ESTEEM is. In four years of undergrad I did not have the opportunity to visit a single firm as innovative or entrepreneurial as the three companies we met last week. Experiences like last week’s Chicago trip offer ESTEEM students a level of understanding and appreciation of the startup world that very few, if any, recent college graduates can match. I am truly grateful to ESTEEM for opening my eyes to this world and cannot wait to see what sorts of entrepreneurial endeavors my classmates will soon be pursuing!