Lightfoot flew to San Francisco for her first post-pandemic trip on Tuesday afternoon and is scheduled to return tomorrow. Among her delegation are leaders from Ocient, Rheaply, Bonfire and M1 Finance, as well as Uber Freight head Lior Ron, former SAP Fieldglass CEO Jai Shekhawat, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Samir Mayekar and Chicago Chief Marketing Officer Michael Fassnacht, who’s also the president of World Business Chicago, the city’s non-profit public-private economic development arm.
Lightfoot’s first meeting was with Breed, followed by breakfast with Chicago tech leaders and Chicago alumni, then meetings with Uber Freight and Salesforce. She is hosting a reception for VC leaders this evening, which follows a roundtable earlier today.
Top on her talking points list: the recent momentum of Chicago’s startup and venture capital ecosystem.
Despite the pandemic, 2020 was a record year for the city’s VC funding scene, according to a joint brief from the city and World Business Chicago. Nine Chicago companies have reached a billion-dollar valuations this year, bringing the citywide total up to 16. VC funding in the first six months this year—$3.7 billion—has already overtaken 2020’s record total of $2.8 billion. That, after Chicago started off 2021 with its best quarter in 15 years
Among the city’s other big selling points are a diverse local economy and home-grown employees: Chicago metro area universities produce the fourth-biggest number of engineering graduates in the country, and Illinois is the third-largest producer of computer science degrees in the U.S.
Lightfoot headed to the West Coast after one of the city’s deadliest weekends in recent memory, and said crime did come up in her talks this week.
“It was not a large feature of the conversations,” she told reporters on a late Thursday call, but she said most companies with big city offices are already familiar with a rise in crime in the past 15 months. “They’re proximate to L.A., they obviously know a lot about New York and other markets experiencing the same challenges that we are around public safety.”
The mayor said she was closely monitoring crime in the city while she was away, and did not consider postponing her trip to keep watch locally. “There are these things called phones and computers, so I’m never far away from what’s happening in Chicago, whether I’m physically there or not,” she said. “It’s also important for me to be an advocate in chief for the city of Chicago.”
The mayor said the trip was important for Chicago to introduce itself as a post-COVID opportunity for companies that might be reassessing calling Silicon Valley home.
“What our goal is is to make sure when individuals are thinking about leaving, companies are thinking about relocating, or standing up a second office, that Chicago is part of that conversation. I think we went a long way over the course of these last two days about orienting people” to the city’s potential.