More than 180 local tech and startup founders, CEOs and investors have backed a new venture capital firm aimed at cutting checks to overlooked and underrepresented entrepreneurs in Chicago.
LongJump, which launched earlier this year, focuses on entrepreneurs underrepresented in some way in the technology industry, whether they are people of color, women or simply lack capital to get a business off the ground.
Unlike other venture capital and investment firms, LongJump was founded and is led by startup founders, not traditional investors. The LongJump partners, all of whom are building companies in Chicago, are Paladin co-founder and CEO Kristen Sonday; 4Degrees co-founder Ablorde Ashigbi; Draftbit Chief Operating Officer Tim Grace; Rheaply founder Garry Cooper; Draftbit co-founder Brian Luerssen, and A.M. Money co-founder Daniel Rogers.
“The reason why we got into building this fund and community together was the opportunity to elevate a set of entrepreneurs we’d seen here and worked with in the city of Chicago for a long period of time who were building phenomenal businesses and who were smart, talented founders, but historically had a lot less access to the network and to the capital it would take to really help them fuel and accelerate their businesses,” said Ashigbi, who’s also a former investor at Pritzker Group Venture Capital.
Most of LongJump’s more than 180 limited partners are notable local techies, including Ocient founder Chris Gladwin; Relativity CEO Mike Gamson; tastytrade co-founder Kristi Ross; Sprout Social CEO Justyn Howard, and Cameo CEO Steven Galanis.
With a $5 million fund, LongJump has so far invested $100,000 each into four Chicago startups. They include Bottlecode, an online retailer for men’s grooming and personal care items; Sanarai, a telehealth service that connects Latino users to mental health professionals, and Science on Call, a 24/7 subscription-based help desk for family-owned and local restaurants that provides support for points of sale, internet issues and online ordering. The last startup LongJump invested in is STIGMA, a mental health app that allows people to communicate with others with similar struggles.
Companies were evaluated based on their founder’s proximity to and experience in a specific market and their ability to scale a business. To cut down on network biases, LongJump sources investments through an application process. In the first round of applications, LongJump received nearly 170 applicants, with 91% having at least one minority founder, Sonday said. The next application cycle closes Oct. 31.
“Our focus is on overlooked founders and ideas that typically would not get access to capital in the Chicagoland area,” Sonday said.
LongJump will invest $100,000 in businesses it selects. While those checks are small compared to other firms in town, Sonday says they’re designed to serve the purpose of traditional “friends and family” rounds, which generally come from wealthy personal connections. LongJump, which considers itself a “first-check” fund, aims to serve entrepreneurs who don’t know generous, wealthy individuals.
Besides funding, LongJump promises to connect the entrepreneurs it invests in with this network of high-profile and well-connected techies, many of whom have built companies from scratch themselves.
“The problems that our founders face are ones that we probably currently face to some extent,” Ashigbi said. “It allows us to relate to those founders on a different level than honestly most investors can.”