All posts by ruiqichen2020

Startups show resilience as the pandemic continues

By Ruiqi Chen
Medill Reports

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in late March, Matt Morfopoulos wasn’t too worried.

As co-founder and chief marketing officer of the Oklahoma text message communications startup Respond Flow, Morfopoulos knew that his business model would survive a socially-distant world because of its emphasis on remote marketing.

However, not every startup was expected to be so lucky.

Four out of 10 of startups had only enough cash on hand to sustain operations for three more months, according to research company Startup Genome’s April 21 global report on the impact of COVID-19 on the worldwide startup environment. This is up from less than three in 10 companies with only three months of runway in December.

Nearly two months after the report was released, it appears to be flat out wrong, said David Beazley, a managing partner with venture capital firm Purple Arch Ventures, which invests in startups within Northwestern University’s alumni network. He estimated that a maximum of a quarter of startups might actually be facing financial failure before the summer is over.

Startup Genome did not respond to a request for comment.

The startup and venture capital industries have taken many steps to ensure as many businesses as possible remain successful during the pandemic, Beazley said. This means focusing on startups that are capable of surviving in a post-COVID world where digital and touchless technologies will have an advantage.

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Chicago heads to local essential business BottlesUp! for a safe and friendly wine fix

By Ruiqi Chen
Medill Reports

Ella Raymont’s first wine pickup of the pandemic involved leaving an envelope containing $100 in cash on a table in exchange for a box of thoroughly sanitized wines and beers.

Raymont, a part-time wine sommelier at local wine store BottlesUp! in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, had texted BottlesUp! owner Melissa Zeman earlier that day asking for a contactless wine order. It was March, the COVID-19 pandemic had just begun, and Raymont was unsure if it was safe to go into the store.

Now, these contactless pickups and wine orders are an everyday occurrence at BottlesUp! as Zeman and her customers adapt to the new realities of the pandemic.

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Stimulus recipients consider spending or saving their checks

By Ruiqi Chen
Medill Reports

As stimulus checks hit bank accounts around the country, some financially secure recipients want to use their portion to support struggling local businesses, but financial advisors are urging caution.

Congress’s initial $2 trillion economic stimulus package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, was passed in late March as the cases of COVID-19 reached nearly 200,000 in the United States and fears over the health of the economy grew. Under the stimulus, those who made less than $75,000 in their most recent tax year qualified for a one-time $1,200 stipend.

Makai-Lynn Randall, a 23-year-old operations manager in Bozeman, Montana, and her husband received a combined $2,400 stimulus check on May 12. In 2019, the couple reported a household income of around $55,000, and they are both still employed. Though neither have a financial advisor, they adhere to a strict budget, and without any pressing bills to pay, Randall said they’d like to use some of the money to support local restaurants in Bozeman.

“We don’t get to eat out a lot,” Randall said. “We’re going to take this money and have a couple at-home date nights and just try to put it back into the community as much as we can. I know how much just going in and filling my growler can help (struggling businesses).”

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International Women’s Day conference brings community and knowledge to Chicago’s female founders

By Ruiqi Chen
Medill Reports

Startup incubator 1871’s International Women’s Day conference started with a call-to-action from CEO Betsy Zeigler.

“Fund, found and scale tech companies,” Zeigler said to the crowd of roughly 200 women, many of whom were female startup.

According to research company Startup Genome, over a quarter of Chicago’s startups are female founded, more than twice Silicon Valley’s rate of 11%. However, women entrepreneurs here face many of the same funding and company growth challenges that exist all over the world.

Under the International Women’s Day theme, “Each for Equal,” the conference promoted equality in tech and entrepreneurship through a series of workshops providing advice and information about women’s business and professional issues.

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Spidey-senses and an entrepreneurial spirit: a Q&A with Balodana founder Dana Todd

By Ruiqi Chen
Medill Reports

Dana Todd founded Balodana, an online made-to-order retail platform for women, in fall 2019 after many years in and out of the corporate world and entrepreneurship. Todd said the freedom of entrepreneurship ultimately led her to pursue this startup, which she hoped can give women greater confidence in their appearance and clothing. But the business doesn’t come without challenges. Accessing funding as a woman has been especially difficult, she said. Todd discussed her ideas for how that can change.

Why was the idea of Balodana so compelling to you?

I believe in starting companies with very big ideas, and I had a sense that this would be big. I had a spidey sense, my hair stood up, and my whole body was electrified when I hit upon the idea and started doing more research. Everything told me that this was going to be very, very, very big.

The company easily worth a billion dollars in sales once we convert 10% of the 56 million women who fall into our general category for targeting, but the more important, and the more exciting, part to me is systemic. As I’ve gotten into this, I’ve understood the damage fast fashion and all garment manufacturing has on the planet, and how very, very broken that system is. It’s an area that needs to be changed because there’s still slavery, and usually female slavery, in the supply chain for garments.

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A new company, and a new baby, drive the passion in one of Chicago’s female startup founders

By Ruiqi Chen
Medill Reports

The day after Borislava Baeva’s new fitness subscription startup went live, she found out she was having a baby girl.

The Chicago-based entrepreneur launched her fitness studio bundling service My Strong Circle last month after nearly two years of planning and preparation. She said she’s always been motivated to succeed as a woman in the startup industry, but she became even more determined to be a strong role model after finding out she was having a daughter.

Chicago has the world’s highest proportion of female startup founders, according to research company Startup Genome’s 2019 global report. Over a quarter of the city’s estimated three thousand startups are founded by women compared to the worldwide average of 14%. Baeva said this level of representation was important for encouraging women to pursue their career ambitions.

“Once you see women (in the industry), you feel like, ‘Oh, I can do that. I belong here,’” she said.

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Women talk pay gap and finances at new wine and networking event series

By Ruiqi Chen
Medill Reports

BottlesUp!, a Chicago wine shop, organized a networking and wine tasting event for women last week to discuss strategies for combating pay inequity and managing their finances, two of the biggest challenges that stand in the way of professional success for many women.

Melissa Zeman, the owner of the Lakeview East store, said she hosted the event and brought in Kristin Summers, an advisor with financial services company Ameriprise Financial, to give a presentation on what women can do to improve their financial situations. Around 40 women attended.

Zeman said she was passionate about “girl power” and supporting other women long before she opened BottlesUp! in the fall of 2019. The many woman-produced wines and liquors in her store were labeled with the female symbol, and she served snacks from woman-owned businesses.

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Chicago’s female founders find support and resources through local organizations

By Ruiqi Chen
Medill Reports

Chicago has the highest proportion of female startup founders in the world, helped by the city’s abundance of support organizations that provide women with resources and a sense of community.

Research company Startup Genome’s 2019 Global Startup Ecosystem Report found that over a quarter of Chicago’s startups were majority female-founded while the worldwide average trailed at 14%. The company’s analysis credited a “groundswell of women supporting women” and an abundance of women’s business support organizations as a potential explanation.

One such organization is the Women’s Business Development Center of Chicago, which provides training and guidance to women entrepreneurs. The organization’s managing director of entrepreneurial services Maura Mitchell said there are about 130 business service organizations like it in the city, and many of them offer programs specifically for women as well as financing help.

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