IVCA Profile Q&A: Jeremy L. Adelman, Director of the Angel Innovation and Entrepreneurship Network at the Illinois Institute of Technology

IVCA Profile Q&A: Jeremy L. Adelman, Director of the Angel Innovation and Entrepreneurship Network at the Illinois Institute of Technology

May 26, 2010

CHICAGO - “ When it comes to ingenuity and an incubator for new ideas, Illinois Institute of Technology is leading the way in developing talented entrepreneurs with the IIT Angel Network. Spearheading the effort is the Director and creator of the program, Jeremy Adelman.

The IVCA recently got the chance to interview Mr. Adelman, on the particulars of the program and how important it has become for IIT and the community.

IVCA: Give us a quick overview of the Illinois Institute of Technology Angel Innovation and Entrepreneurship Network.

Jeremy Adelman: The easiest way to handle that one is to tell you why I was hired and what I've been doing here. I came on board about 18 months ago as part of the Alumni/Advancement Office. I had been working mostly in non-profits for the last ten years, always with the high tech and early stage community. While I also did a stint on Wall Street for a short time, this is the second university-based Angel group that I have started.

So I joined IIT specifically to build an Angel Group from the university's alumni and local Chicagoans. IIT has this incredible history of creating innovators and entrepreneurs. People like Victor Tsao, who founded Linksys, is an alumnus. Marty Cooper, who invented the cell phone at Motorola, is an alumnus. IIT alumni have a substantial track record of building innovative businesses. The alumni office felt that by creating an Angel group it would be a platform for bringing the alumni back to the university, and that alumni could help each other to grow one another's businesses.

I have a strong partner in the IIT Knapp Entrepreneurship Center. The Center does all the hands-on mentoring of startups through its board of advisors and staff, the Angel Network expands on that by adding the potential for funding. There is a group of incredibly accomplished people that the university has access to, who want to help young entrepreneurs get off the ground and be successful.

IVCA: What kind of product or service presentations seem to be piquing the interest of your Angel Investors during the quarterly submissions?

JA: I think it runs the gamut. The companies who have presented are either student companies, alumni companies, or companies that have a substantial connection to IIT. We've had a wind energy company present and there has been a RFID/Web 2.0 company focused on ""tweens"". The important thing for us is building a community at IIT where entrepreneurs can be successful.

IVCA: So there is no emphasis on any particular product or service, just come up with the best idea?

JA: Our major screen is that we focus on companies having a substantial connection to the university (alumni, student, IIT technology etc). For companies that don't meet those criteria, we look for connections to our core research strengths, for example cleantech and power engineering, biomedical engineering, and telecom.

IVCA: What is the best kind of education or preparation program for entrepreneurs before they go before Angel Investors?

JA: Working with engineers has its unique challenges because so often they are focused on the technical solution they have come up with, or the device they've created or envisioned. Basically we want to make sure that these budding entrepreneurs stay focused on the market or on the product, and how that product is going to grow and return investment dollars to their partners.

IVCA: What kind of nurturing works best within a developmental incubator?

JA: The environment of peers and access to mentors is important. We have 23 companies on campus in the University Technology Park and another 15 associated with the campus through the Knapp Entrepreneurship Center.

IVCA: What is the best strategy, especially in association with your program, for someone who is creative in producing new ideas, but lacks business acumen to protect it?

JA: I said before that having access to mentors is important. One of the benefits of doing this activity at a university is the faculty and alumni that can help. Many of our faculty have their own companies, and hold patents for their work. For students, we try and make sure that our entrepreneurs and innovators talk to the right experts so they can pursue an appropriate IP strategy.

IVCA: You've been doing this for almost two years. What has been your stamp on the program that has had the most impact?

JA: Well, it exists. [laughs] IIT is uniquely positioned in Chicago because it is an institute of higher education focused on engineering, technology, and innovation. It provides not just a great opportunity to create an Angel group, but to act as a platform where the entire Chicago angel network can come together. Obviously we look to the Venture Capital community to come in and be partners as well. When we hold our meetings, I have seen people actively involved in four different Chicagoland Angel groups come to IIT to participate. IIT is a place where early stage investors from all over Chicagoland can come together- ”it's one of the things that I am most excited about.

IVCA: Is there anything that you are doing at your meetings that is unique?

JA:. In addition to having a startup company present, we also invite a - ˜rock star' entrepreneur to give a talk as well. We try to focus on someone who has built a billion dollar business. This is accomplished by tapping into our alumni network or by reaching out to business leaders in Chicago. So the Angels that come to the meetings have a chance not only to learn about a great company, but to learn something from somebody who has built an incredibly successful business.

IVCA: What group of alumni or Angels have been most responsive to the program and why?

JA: It's the entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs, who have had success, want to give back and help the next generation achieve success as well...whether it's helping to build a company, mentoring it or, if they see something great, investing in it. And this is only the Chicago part. I've been talking to alumni in San Francisco and China, and people have been really jazzed about the idea of what we're doing and want to get involved.

IVCA: How important is it for Illinois Institute of Technology to encourage an entrepreneurial attitude to the current generation of tech creatives?

JA: We just went through a major strategic planning process. IIT's senior leadership created a plan with the board of trustees and others. A big piece of this is defining the IIT graduate in a distinctive way, to create a distinctive education program. IIT sees a core component of this as teaching entrepreneurism, teaching our students how to be creative and innovative with technology, and that the creation of enterprise can benefit society. Through learning how to create new businesses and innovative new products, IIT students, faculty, and alumni will not only have success themselves but to have a positive impact on the world through their new companies, products, and services.
IVCA: Why should IVCA Members be interested in the IIT Angel/Entrepreneurial Network/how can they participate?

JA: It's all about the network. I think that IVCA members would be pleasantly surprised by the high caliber group that comes to our meetings. It's not just successful IIT alumni, but Chicagoans that have built multimillion dollar (and in some cases billion dollar) businesses either as entrepreneurs or inside corporations. It's a great group for sharing deals, collaborating and making things happen. IIT and the Angel Network have the potential to become a great deal flow source for Chicago's venture community.

For VCs and accredited investors, the easiest way to get involved is to come to our meetings, check out the companies and the great community that we are building. It would be wonderful if IVCA members uncovered IIT connected companies that we didn't know about too. People can learn more by simply emailing me directly at [email protected], or going to our website: http://knappcenter.iit.edu/angels/about-us-angels/