IVCA Profile: Betsy Ziegler, New CEO of ‘1871’ Tech Incubator

August 15, 2018

In February of this year, the entrepreneurial tech incubator “1871” named a new CEO, Betsy Ziegler, who succeeded Howard Tullman. Prior to taking the reins of her new position, Ms. Ziegler had spent the last seven years at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and the last three years as its Chief Innovation Officer. She is the first female CEO of 1871.
Before her tenure at Northwestern University, Betsy Ziegler served as a principal at the Chicago Office of McKinsey and Company, a global management consulting firm, where she led the Life Insurance Operations and Technology practice and co-led its Financial Institutions Operations and Technology practice. From 2011 through 2015, she served as Associate Dean of Degree Programs and Dean of Students at the Kellogg School, before serving as Chief Innovation Officer.
Ms. Ziegler holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and received a B.A. in Economics from Ohio State University. She is also on the Board of Directors for the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and serves as both an advisor to and investor in many young technology companies. The IVCA caught up with Betsy Ziegler after her first 4 months as CEO at 1871, in the following profile.
IVCA: Congratulations on your appointment to CEO of ‘1871.’ What innovations and challenges regarding the incubator intrigued you about this leadership role, and how do you envision continuing the innovation and addressing the challenges?
Betsy Ziegler: Thank you. There were three primary reasons I took this role. First, it was the opportunity to support at the meta level the approximately 500 current entrepreneurs and another 250 alumni of 1871, which is extremely exciting to me. I like to be in the trenches, problem solving and – with my team – increasing the odds of success for each of these founders. Second, I am excited to work with the large corporates in our backyard... I think that this is an under-leveraged asset and we at 1871, as the convener, can bridge the company divide between big and small. Lastly, tech in Chicago has a lot of momentum right now, and in this role I get to have a seat at the table with other leaders, making decisions that will define the shape of the Chicago economy for decades.
We have a few opportunities going forward. One that I’m very focused on right now is extending our reach and relevance throughout all of the city’s neighborhoods, particularly areas that haven’t traditionally been connected to Chicago’s tech and entrepreneur community, such as the South and West sides. We believe that entrepreneurial talent and aspiration is everywhere, but access and opportunity are not. We have several amazing assets – our curriculum and the leaders who teach it, our mentors, and our partnerships. We can leverage these assets to support, grow, and nurture all of Chicago’s potential entrepreneurs and young professionals.
IVCA: The success of 1871 is tied into the economic advancements of Chicago and the Midwest. How will you continue to integrate 1871 into that economy?
Ziegler: We drive regional economic growth by inspiring, equipping and training our founders and entrepreneurs so that they can build successful companies. And then, we expand on those efforts by supporting, sustaining and growing an inclusive ecosystem around that community... we’re the place where you go to build a great business. When you look at the outcomes of our member companies and alumni, you see that they’ve created thousands of jobs and raised hundreds of millions of dollars worth of follow-on capital.
Additionally, we’re focused on building greater partnerships with the large companies in our own backyard. We’ve got nearly forty Fortune 500 companies right here in Chicago, and we have an opportunity to partner with them to help drive business and innovation in the region.
IVCA: How did your role as Chief Innovation Officer at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management prepare you for your new role as CEO of 1871?
Ziegler: I pull on my Kellogg School, and frankly my McKinsey experience, every day at 1871. As the Dean of Students at Kellogg my job was to inspire and support 2500 aspiring graduates – many of whom became entrepreneurs. I woke up every day focused on determining ways to best support them. The analogy to what I do at 1871 is very strong... it’s my job, and my team’s job, to support our founders and their teams to help them be successful.
At Kellogg, my vocation of working with students, young ed tech companies and other partners in the country matched my avocation of supporting, investing and advising entrepreneurs. All of these experiences, plus my 12 years at McKinsey, focused on leading teams, solving problems and helping clients be successful, which are serving me very well in these early days at 1871.
IVCA: Much of what 1871 does is in regard to mentoring entrepreneurs and innovators through the process of building viable companies. Are those  processes in achieving successful outcomes different depending on the type of entrepreneurship, or do you find common practices to be most effective?
Ziegler: I think it’s a bit of both. There are certainly some common practices that are effective for all entrepreneurs and innovators, but we also tailor many of our programs to fit our members’ specific needs. For example, we’ve created an Advanced Member Program geared towards our scaling, later-stage companies because they’re going to have different targets than our early-stage founders.
In our effort to diversify the entrepreneur community in Chicago and frankly, in general, we run a 12 week, curriculum-based accelerator tailored to women entrepreneurs called WiSTEM. We’re graduating our seventh cohort this week and are preparing for our eighth. The program has graduated 76 companies, created more than 250 jobs and raised more than $10 million in capital. 
On a similar note, we also run a program in partnership with the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce called the Latinx Incubator. The incubator provides mentorship and content that is specifically tailored to help Hispanic entrepreneurs gain access to funding, build out their businesses, and increase their business leads and client introductions.
IVCA: You are the first woman CEO in 1871’s history. What does that mean to you, both in a personal leadership role and in the inspiration to bring more women into this type of incubator?
Ziegler: I’m honored to have this role, and if me being in the role creates a feeling of greater access, opportunity or inclusion in our community, then I’m absolutely thrilled. I have had the great fortune of working in meritocracies where I truly believe my gender did not play a role in my performance. However, there’s no denying that men make up the majority of the tech and entrepreneur demographic. To bring more women into our community and the tech ecosystem at large, I think you need to address four problems...
First, there is the notion that there’s a shortage of talent. That’s not the case – more than half of all college graduates are women and about half of all engineering graduates are women. Second, we need to increase advocacy and sponsorship for women in the tech industry. I think we’re slowly starting to see more of that, but that’s a key driver for many entrepreneurs. Third, women founders need greater access to capital. In the last five years, startups led by women never received more than nine percent of venture funding or deal flow in Chicago. And lastly, I think we need to start telling more positive stories about women in the industry. If you’re trying to inspire more women to join the tech community, then you have to share the success stories and show them what’s possible.
IVCA: How can the membership of the Illinois Venture Capital Association best interact with 1871, in your viewpoint and tenure, and what do you anticipate in this interaction?
Ziegler: I think there are several ways we can partner. We have close to 500 young companies operating in our space. I would love your membership to have more transparency as to who these founders are, what problems they are solving and what help they need. I can imagine doing that in several ways ranging from smaller, more focused conversations to larger, Demo-Day like events.
At a minimum, we should have all of your members have the option of receiving our pipeline report highlighting companies raising money. I also believe that your members could be great mentors and/or workshop leaders for our founders and we would welcome the opportunity to get more of them involved. I am sure there are a lot of other creative ideas we could jointly explore, and my team and I would welcome that conversation.
For more information about Betsy Ziegler and 1871, click www.1871.com