IVCA Q&A: Melissa Lederer, Chief Marketing Officer of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, on the Upcoming Momentum Awards

IVCA Q&A: Melissa Lederer, Chief Marketing Officer of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Cen-ter, on the Upcoming Momentum Awards

September 25, 2013

The Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC) has been a vital resource for innovators and start-ups in the area, which are building high growth and sustainable businesses. Their flagship project is “1871,” the centralized workspace – 50,000 square feet in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart  that provides mentorship, programming, educational resources and space to a community of like-minded entrepreneurs – that the CEC runs and operates. The CEC’s 6th Annual Momentum Awards will take place on October 2nd, 2013, and will honor the early-growth stage entrepreneurs who have demonstrated success since their inception and are poised for continued growth. The Awards recognizes rising stars in financial services, information technology for the new media, alternative energy, healthcare markets and consumer products and services.

Two of the awardees have already been announced. Accepting the Entrepreneurial Champion Award – which honors a successful member of the business and entrepreneurial community –  is Tom Ricketts, the Chairman of the Chicago Cubs. The Corporate Champion Award will be given to Scott C. Swanson, regional President of PNC Bank, who leads this landmark Chicago institution and maintains a commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation. The 2013 Merrick Momentum Award – which honors a business that has forged the path from start-up to established enterprise – has four nominees, with the winner announced at the October 2nd Awards dinner. Vying for the prize are inventive businesses BrightTag, Cleversafe, Guaranteed Rate and SMS Assist.

The IVCA spoke with Melissa Lederer, the Chief Marketing Officer of the CEC, regarding the philosophy and significance of the 2013 Momentum Awards.

IVCA: The Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center is celebrating the year 2013 with the upcoming Momentum Awards. How do these awards connect with the philosophy of the CEC, what the CEC does for Chicagoland and what it can do for the future of the growth in the region?

Melissa Lederer: The Momentum Awards Dinner is the primary vehicle funding all of the great programming being done at 1871. For that reason, it's not just a celebration of entrepreneurship in Chicago, but it's the fundamental component that drives the day-to-day at 1871.

IVCA: What makes the Momentum Awards, to quote your description 'the biggest celebration of entrepreneurship in Chicago'?

Lederer: Because everybody is there: from civic leaders like the mayor and governor, to the top business leaders, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and educators. This is the one place where the burgeoning startups in Chicago can interact with every single person they would want to meet in one room.

IVCA: This is your sixth event, how has it evolved and progressed from the first awards ceremony in 2008?

Lederer: We've really captured the entrepreneurial spirit in the growth of the event - moving from a hotel to a ballroom and now to an enormous tent in Millennium Park. In the first year of the dinner, we raised $500,000. This year we will raise over $1.5 million. In year one there were a 400 guests. This year there will be 850.

IVCA: What do you think is the innovative thread that links the four finalists – BrightTag, Cleversafe, Guaranteed Rate and SMS Assist – for the Merrick Momentum Award?

Lederer: All four of these companies are utilizing great technology to disrupt and innovate. Guaranteed Rate and SMS Assist are changing the way old industries operate, and Cleversafe and BrightTag are changing the way new industries operate. The common thread is the use of innovative technologies that power all four companies.

IVCA: Your Entrepreneurial Champion is Tom Ricketts, the current owner of the Chicago Cubs. What are the unique characteristics of successful entrepreneurs – in your opinion – that allow such a diversity of holdings in different types of businesses?

Lederer: Tom is the perfect example of an entrepreneurial Champion, someone who has built multiple successful ventures, and remains supportive and committed to the entrepreneurial community. For us, successful entrepreneurs are defined by passion, creativity, leadership, and vision. All of these are key components to executing a business and recruiting the right people and investors to help along the way.  

IVCA: The Corporate Champion Award is going to be presented to PNC Bank and Regional Bank President Scott Swanson. What role do banks have in funding entrepreneurship, that is different from private equity and venture capital?

Lederer: When Banks fund startups, it's obviously a very different process, but there are several banks in Chicago that are working with Startups more and more to provide the necessary funding to traverse the early days in the business cycle. PNC has also been a perennial supporter of entrepreneurial initiatives throughout Chicago. Additionally, there's a saying that the only thing better than an investor is a customer. PNC is an example of a bank that is creating a direct link between startups and key decision makers within the bank.

IVCA: What sets the Momentum Awards apart from other events or honors of the entrepreneurial spirit in Chicago?

Lederer: The Momentum Awards Dinner is a great event, and really the night of the year for entrepreneurship in Chicago. But it is also an important night – it's a showcase for growth stage companies. Between the Momentum Award and Chicago's Coolest Startup Contest, it is building the profile for start-ups in Chicago. And it's doing all of that while raising the funds needed to provide the great programming that makes 1871 special.

The 6th Annual Momentum Awards, sponsored by the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, will be presented on October 2nd, 2013, at Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois. For registration and more details click here.