IVCA Profile: 2014 Richard J. Daley Award Recipient Steven Miller, Partner and Co-Founder of Origin Ventures

Continuing the profiles for the 2014 IVCA Annual Awards Dinner, the recipient of the Richard J. Daley Award is Steven N. Miller, Partner and Co-Founder of Origin Ventures. The Award is named for Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley (1955-1976), historically one of the most influential leaders of a city in the 20th Century. Mr. Miller represents the defining principle of the award, as an “individual who has given direct and extraordinary support to the State of Illinois by participating in or being an advocate for the Venture Capital and Private Equity industries.”
Steven N. “Steve” Miller is a Partner and co-founder of Origin Ventures. Prior to co-founding Origin, Mr. Miller spent ten years at Quill Corporation, a direct marketer of office products started by his family in 1956. His experience there included running the Canadian distribution center, as well as the P&L responsibility for a $30 Million product line. His final two years at Quill were devoted to starting up the e-commerce operation, writing the business plan for the company’s first web site and managing the team that executed it to $15 Million in annual revenue. In 1998, the Miller family sold Quill to Staples, and achieved a one billion dollar exit.
Mr. Miller serves on the board of doggyloot and VHT, and was previously a director of GrubHub and Shoutlet. Prior to its sale in 2004, he served on the board of directors of iNest. He was also an investor and advisor at Golf.com, before it was acquired in 2006 by Time Inc.
Mr. Miller is president of the board of Victory Gardens Theater. He serves on the board of OneGoal, an innovative college persistence program working to make college graduation possible for all students. He is a board member and committee chair of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, as well as the Better Government Association. He is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago, and the University of Illinois Foundation.
Mr. Miller received a B.S. degree in Business Administration/Marketing from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1987, where he now serves on the Dean’s Business Council and the board of the Hillel Foundation. He also provides the funding for the Steven N. Miller Entrepreneurial Scholarships and the Diane & Steven N. Miller Endowed Professorship in Business at the University of Illinois.
Steve Miller talked to the IVCA about the significance of the Daley Award honor, plus his background, experiences and career.
IVCA: Given the historic background on the name for this award, Richard J. Daley, what does the honor mean to you in context to the history of Chicago and your contributions to that business community in both the city and the state?
Steve Miller: Richard J. Daley was a builder. While he was in office, O’Hare Airport, Sears Tower, McCormick Place, and the University of Illinois Chicago campus all came into being. He was also responsible for beginning Chicago’s great tradition of public art, with the Picasso sculpture in what is now Daley Plaza. My contributions to our community don’t compare to the magnitude of Mayor Daley. However, I invest time and financial resources to build companies in our city, as well as non-profits focused on education and the arts. So, there are some interesting parallels that make me feel very connected to the leaders that came before us.
IVCA: You began your career in a family business, Quill Corporation, and took the company to another level during the beginnings of e-commerce. What perspective did you gain being 'on the floor' of that business that you've used in your Origin Ventures career?
Miller: I was very blessed to be able to grow up learning my family business. The deep respect I have for entrepreneurs was nurtured by my experiences at Quill. From the time I was very young, I’ve had appreciation and admiration for everything that entrepreneurs accomplish. My father and uncles set the standard by which I judge myself, and the founders with whom I have the privilege to collaborate.
IVCA: Let's go back to when you co-founded Origin Ventures in 1999. What personal philosophy regarding business in general did you add to the founding principles of the firm, and how has that been followed up over the years of portfolio activity?
Miller: Both [Co-founder] Bruce Barron and I have always conducted business with the highest degree of honesty, integrity, and hard work. We expect the same from our colleagues and portfolio teams.
IVCA: Origin Ventures is known for both its stellar portfolio and its principles toward investing in companies. How has 'moving from the investor side of table' to the same side of the founding team of the companies you invest in brought value to both the firm and those companies?
Miller: We always seek to align our interests with those of the founding team. If we all work hard on behalf of the customers, then it is more likely that value will be built for the team, and for all shareholders.
IVCA: You've sat on the boards of many of your portfolio companies. What decisions at the board level do you believe are the most important when growing a company and why?
Miller: There are several important decisions that boards of young companies make – among the most important are those having to do with adding key members to the management team.  Since we invest fairly early, it is rare that a complete team is already in place that is able to scale the company all the way to exit. Other important board issues include evaluating potential acquisitions and guiding management’s strategic growth plans.
IVCA: You give back to the community in a profound way. Of the various foundations and associations you are involved with, which one in particular gives you the greatest sense of community satisfaction, as to what it gives back to that community?
Miller: That’s equivalent to asking which child is my favorite. Within the context of your question, I guess my answer would be Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. As a sort of ‘Jewish United Way,’ this organization supports a network of almost 50 social service agencies providing vital help to people of all faiths. Examples of the work these agencies do include medical care for underserved populations, feeding the hungry and homeless, sheltering victims of domestic violence, caring for children and the elderly, several educational initiatives, and much more.
IVCA: Given your high profile in the Venture Capital industry – and your busy outside charity and business associations you pursue – what personal hobby, interest or activity would your industry colleagues be surprised to hear about? And we have to ask...what is your favorite Steve Miller Band rock song, since he shares his name with you?
Miller:  Some of my colleagues already know this about me… I trained in improvisational comedy at The Second City. And, as for my namesake, I have been dealing with Steve Miller Band jokes my whole life. For the purposes of our industry, my favorite song of his would have to be ‘Take the Money and Run.’
IVCA: Finally, what does the IVCA mean to you, and how does that play into the larger sphere of being part of Origin Ventures, plus the Chicago and Midwestern investor community?
Miller: The IVCA does a great job representing our industry’s common interests, and it also provides a terrific forum for networking. Plus, the awards they give out are awesome.
The 2014 IVCA Awards Dinner, presented by Kirkland and Ellis LLP, will take place on December 8th, 2014, at The Four Seasons, 120 E. Delaware Street, Chicago. Individual tickets and tables are still available, click here for information.