Nearly 100 young professionals interested in developing LGBT small businesses for themselves, or to help others, met at the Groupon headquarters, 600 W. Chicago Ave. in River North, on Thursday for a panel discussion on entrepreneurship and venture capital funding.
Billed as “The LGBT Entrepreneurial Journey,” the networking event was planned by StartOut, an organization founded in San Francisco and New York City in 2009 to help cultivate healthy LGBT entrepreneur communities. The evening’s event was the inaugural meeting of a developing Chicago chapter, organized by James Bain and steering committee members Joel Bosch, Mary Shea, Kyle Klatt, and Brian Mullins.
With piles of rain-soaked winter coats on Groupon’s sofas and coffee tables, Groupon Pride members—the company’s LGBT advocacy group—served drinks to attendees as they crowded another corner of the common area to hear a panel of speakers with experience in various stages of startup development. The panel included Lorenzo Thione, co-founder of StartOut; Dr. Vivienne Ming, chief scientist at Gild and co-founder of Socos; and Joel Bosch, chief operating officer at eCD Market and investor in Vino Volo.
Conversation between the panelists and attendees was moderated by University of Chicago Booth School of Business clinical professor of entrepreneurship Waverly Deutsch. Deutsch teaches a course called Building the New Venture, which focuses on executing startup plans.
Thione, Ming, and Bosch shared their personal experiences moving from corporate jobs into their own various small businesses. They discussed how they moved from ideas to actual plans of action, setting up their businesses, and the challenges they faced along the startup journey.
On this issue of challenges, panelists shared stories of how their being LGBT affected their work lives. Ming’s reflection included transgender discrimination, losing her position over her identity—legal in many states—and overcoming that adversity. She happily shared about bouncing back after finding more supportive companies to work with.
Organizers hope the event will be the first of many with an expectation of establishing an official Chicago chapter of StartOut. There are active chapters in Austin, Boston, San Francisco, and New York City. Just as is being done in Chicago, a Los Angeles chapter is currently in the works.
StartOut claims to have served over 13,800 participants in over 150 events. Its major corporate sponsors include Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Google, among others.