IVCA 2016 Awards Dinner Profile: Recipient of the Richard J. Daley Award is Ellen Rudnick, Senior Advisor & Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Chicago Booth

Recipient of the Richard J. Daley Award is Ellen A. Rudnick, Senior Advisor & Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Chicago Booth

November 9, 2016

The Annual IVCA Awards Dinner is fast approaching – Monday, December 5th, 2016. The yearly event honors the persons and organizations that have made an impact both within the association, the broader VC/PE industries and the community at large. The individual award recipients were recently announced and will be profiled in the IVCA newsletter – beginning with Ellen A. Rudnick, the Richard J. Daley Award honoree. Ms. Rudnick is Adjunct Professor and the Senior Advisor on Entrepreneurship at the Booth School of Business, University of Chicago.

Ellen A. Rudnick earned a bachelor's degree from Vassar College, and then enrolled at the University of Chicago, where she graduated with an MBA. Prior to joining Chicago Booth, she spent 25 years in business management and entrepreneurial activities, primarily in the health care and information services industries. During this time, she was president and CEO of Healthcare Knowledge Resources, president of HCIA, chairman of Pacific Biometrics, and corporate vice president of Baxter Healthcare Corporation.

In 1999, she was the inaugural Executive Director of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, and continues there as Adjunct Professor and Senior Advisor in Entrepreneurship. Ms. Rudnick has worked with the many start-ups that emerge from Chicago Booth’s entrepreneurship programs, and both her governance activities and start-up interests have helped her to bridge the gap in the classroom between the theoretical and the real world.

She also has been the recipient of a number of honors, including Today's Chicago Woman 20th Anniversary Hall of Fame, and the YWCA Leadership Award. She serves or has served on numerous corporate boards including Liberty Mutual, First Midwest Bank, HMS Holdings, Patterson Companies, Oxford Health Plans, Northshore University Healthcare Research and Development, the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center/1871 and MATTER.

Steven N. Kaplan, who together with Ms. Rudnick was instrumental in creating the entrepreneurial program at Chicago Booth, wrote this in nominating her for the Richard J. Daley Award...“Ellen Rudnick has been the driving force in building the entrepreneurship program at Chicago Booth and the Polsky Center. The programs, in turn, have helped develop a large number of investors and start-ups in Illinois. During her tenure as Executive Director, Ellen indeed has provided direct and extraordinary support to the Venture Capital and Private Equity industry in the State of Illinois.”

In anticipation of the December 5th Awards Dinner, the IVCA interviewed Richard J. Daley Award honoree Ellen A. Rudnick.

IVCA: Congratulations on the Richard J. Daley Award. What does it mean to you to be honored by your peers in the Venture Capital and Private Equity industries?

Ellen Rudnick: As a previous entrepreneur who received both funding and guidance from the Venture Capital community, I know first hand the important role that VCs play in helping build businesses. In my current role at Polsky Center, we partner extensively with the VC and PE community to provide educational opportunities to our students so that together we can build the next generation of leaders in the industry.

The IVCA membership help to make entrepreneurs’ dreams come true, and at the same time have a huge impact in the economic development of the city and state. To be recognized as being part of that success is both gratifying and humbling.

IVCA: You were Executive Director during the inaugural launch of the Polsky Center. What initial mission statement still remains as the backbone of the center?

Rudnick: While our mission has expanded in scope, it still retains the base we started with – helping our university constituents turn ideas into reality, and creating impact in the communities we serve. When we first started out, our resources were limited. We focused mostly on creating experiential learning opportunities, developing new curriculum and providing mentoring. As the Polsky Center has grown, we now have a far more robust set of tools to support our entrepreneurs, including co-location facilities and maker spaces, plus access to investors and capital.

IVCA: Entrepreneurship has evolved as technology has evolved. What has been the biggest change in the nature of entrepreneurship as tech has come front and center?

Rudnick: Technology has dramatically lowered the costs for entrepreneurs to get started and also has created a host of new business opportunities – from e-commerce to mobile apps to productivity tools. Technology also has made ‘entrepreneurship’ a much more acceptable career alternative for the younger generations. When we first started the New Venture Challenge 21 years ago, there were 33 total entries into the competition...now we average 150 applicants annually.

IVCA: You were also instrumental in initiating and developing the Hyde Park Angels. What, in your observation, has been the biggest impact HPA has made on Chicago and/or the local scene?

Rudnick: In 2006, when we were approached by a few grad students about helping them get an angel network off the ground, we jumped at the idea. There had been such a dearth of seed and early stage capital in the community that many of our NVC companies were either relocating elsewhere or struggling in Chicago. While we always helped our NVC companies connect with angel investors, it was on a one-off basis and was an arduous and very long process.

The Hyde Park Angels have had significant impact in several areas. It has helped us retain many companies in the Chicago community. It has created a network of investors that are more confident in angel investing, given the rigorous diligence and portfolio management processes HPA has developed. And it has attracted many other investors from outside of our area to Illinois to invest in subsequent financing rounds of HPA companies. HPA is the largest angel investing group in the Midwest, and as such enhances Chicago’s reputation as a startup and tech hub.

IVCA: What still surprises you about the creativity and different points of view that you observe during the New Venture Challenge [NVA]? What do you believe is the ‘it factor’ in business development?

Rudnick: The New Venture Challenge has been rated one of the top accelerators in the nation and ‘Number One’ among universities. What makes it so successful has been the rigorous process developed during the past 21 years – including extensive vetting of the idea and the prototype through customer interviews, coaching by experienced entrepreneurs, and brutal but always constructive feedback from potential investors. At the end of the process the participants have a good idea if their venture will succeed or not...failing early is as important as deciding to move forward.

While every year brings surprises, the thing that constantly amazes me is how many unique and diverse ideas enter the competition each year. I always think the quality can’t get any better, then the next year arrives, and the bar is raised again. I also love the fact that many of our student teams are not just trying to create businesses, but want to create businesses that will positively impact the world.

IVCA: You’ve taught several of the different ‘generations’ of business majors over the years. As society is more affected with the use of computers and their tech machine extensions, what do you observe about how people approach learning?

Rudnick: At Chicago Booth, we have started to flip the classroom and provide web-based video lectures and interactive learning modules online. This ensures precious classroom time is spent on interactive discussions and experiential learning or teamwork...all of which help build critical-thinking skills.

Knowing which questions to ask – questions that inform decision-making and help you learn from your successes and failures – cannot be taught online. Today’s students have grown up on computers and often rely too much on seeking answers to questions online, rather than learning how to talk to people and work together. Understanding how to balance these multiple venues for learning, particularly online versus offline, is essential.

IVCA: What do you think is key in getting more women in entrepreneurship, and what encourages you about the how the numbers have improved in the field for women?

Rudnick: Most successful entrepreneurs rely on personal relationships to help them access resources to grow their businesses, so given the smaller number of women entrepreneurs and investors, it has been more challenging for women to find the resources they need within their existing networks. But that has been changing.  

The growth of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem is making it easier for women to access more resources. Programs like WiSTEM [Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics] at Chicago’s ‘1871’ Tech and Entrepreneur Center; the New Venture Challenge; incubators like Techstars, Healthbox and Impact Engine; and co-location facilities like 1871, MATTER [Healthcare incubator] and the Polsky Exchange increase the access to resources for women entrepreneurs.

Also encouraging is the growth of women in STEM and MBA programs – forty-two percent of this year’s entering class at Booth is female. This, coupled with more female role models in entrepreneurship and business leadership, should encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities.

IVCA: The award you’re receiving is named for Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, who presided over a modernization that still impacts the city. What are the next steps for Chicago in keeping up with the modern business world, and how will the University of Chicago lead the way?

Rudnick: The future of the modern business world is all about the talent, and the future of Chicago is all about retaining the incredible talent that comes here for its world-renowned academic institutions. The University of Chicago attracts talented, energetic, diverse and curious students, in addition to the researchers and faculty from all over the world.

One of the major goals for the Polsky Center is finding ways for these people to meet one another, work together on innovative ideas, and connect with the business and professional community in Chicago. Both the founders of GrubHub and Braintree worked on their ideas while students at Chicago Booth and remained in Chicago, adding thousands of jobs to the local economy. Their success also has brought more investment dollars and talent to Chicago.

But there has been a great deal of talent that has left Illinois as well, because they were unable to attract investment here, unable to get work visas, given our current immigration system, or were unable to find the additional talent they needed...so they moved elsewhere. Both the City of Chicago and its universities – all of them together – need to work to find ways to encourage this talent to stay in Illinois, and ensure the opportunities and resources are available to keep them here.

The 2016 IVCA Awards Dinner is open for reservations. Click here for more information.