Chicago businesses recognized for aiding economy

By Hallie Zolkower-Kutz

Three emerging startup companies were honored for their contributions to the local economy at an Oct. 24 dinner hosted by the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center.

The Chicago-based businesses nominated for the CEC’s Momentum Award included Braintree, an online payment system for businesses and consumers; Trunk Club, a mail-order men’s clothing retailer; and Narrative Science, a company that uses software to transform data into easy-to-read narratives.

Braintree won the award for its commitment to creating local jobs. Founder and chairman Bryan Johnson accepted the award, stressing the importance of entrepreneurship.

“It’s entrepreneurship that challenges the status quo and, most importantly, creates the future,” Johnson said.

According to Johnson, Braintree is committed to supporting and expanding Chicago’s business community, which includes piquing college students’ interest in working for local companies.

“We’re trying to keep talent here in Chicago,” he said. “We’re working with local universities and trying to make sure that students aren’t all going to the West Coast.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel addressed the crowd at the banquet and echoed the importance of attracting college students.

“We are reinventing our community colleges to a career-based education,” Emanuel said to the crowd. “I want to give those kids a chance to be working for you.”

Chicago’s place in the national business community is also growing, according to Emanuel. He cited a Sept. 25 New York Times article that stated the once undeveloped neighborhood of River North is now a desirable area for

startup companies.

CEC President Kevin Willer said Chicago’s entrepreneurial growth rate has almost doubled annually for the last four years.

“The entrepreneurs are creating the new jobs,” Willer said. “We have entrepreneurs across all industries in Chicago who are creating jobs and making a huge

economic impact.”

Trunk Club CEO Brian Spaly discussed his company’s 1,400 percent growth in revenue since moving his business to Chicago in 2009. He attributes some of that success to the city’s digital presence.

“We’re using technology to help power our business,” Spaly said. “We have 15,000 customers that keep coming back. That feels to me like momentum.”

Chicago has become the digital center of the Midwest, according to Emanuel. Businesses like Braintree and Narrative Science use technology not only to spread the word about their companies, but to transform the way they do business.

Braintree, Willer said, is constantly finding new ways to make mobile and online payments safer, while Narrative Science uses an intricate program called Quill to process its customer data.

As the event concluded, Glenn Tilton, Midwest chairman of JPMorgan Chase, accepted an Entrepreneurial Champion Award on behalf of the company and discussed Chicago’s role in the business community.

“What we’re really focused on is success for Chicago,” Tilton said. “This should be a destination city for everything we have celebrated this evening.”