IVCA Profile: Tony Palcheck, Recipient of the 2020 IVCA Fellows Award at the upcoming IVCA Virtual Awards Event

November 25, 2020

Like many things about the pandemic year of 2020, the annual IVCA Awards event will go virtual to present its honors. The IVCA Awards event, presented by Kirkland & Ellis LLP, will be held on Monday, December 7th, 2020, from 4pm-6pm. The honors presented will include the Venture-Backed Portfolio Company of the Year, the IVCA Fellows Award and the Stanley C. Golder Award.
The IVCA Fellows Award – which honors individuals for their outstanding contributions to the VC/PE industries through their work with the Illinois Venture Capital Association (IVCA) – will be presented to Anthony “Tony” Palcheck, the Managing Director for Zebra Ventures, and a passionate and active participant in the IVCA for over 15 years. He served as IVCA Chairman in 2018 through 2019.
Tony Palcheck received his undergraduate and MBA from DePaul University. Prior to joining Zebra Ventures, Mr. Palcheck was a Managing Director for Motorola Ventures and Motorola Solutions Venture Capital. He also worked at the Corporate Strategy level at Motorola, responsible for emerging technologies and researching investments. He joined Zebra Ventures in 2014.
“Whenever the IVCA has needed an industry pro to lend a hand, shepherd a project, suggest a new or better way of doing something or provide a thoughtful critique, Tony has been there. For all he has done for the IVCA and our Venture and Private Equity communities, Tony is a deserving recipient of the Fellows Award,” said Lee Mitchell of Thoma Bravo in his recommendation.
The IVCA got the opportunity to get some insight from Tony Palcheck, in the following Q&A profile.
IVCA: As the 2020 recipient of the Fellows Award, what does it mean to you personally to be recognized by your peers in the Venture Capital and Private Equity industries, especially as you serve as an officer of the IVCA?
Tony Palcheck: To even be considered for this award is quite gratifying. It is an incredible honor to be added to a list that includes so many people I respect and admire. I think I’m the first Corporate Venture Capitalist to be recognized, which shows the progression of the Venture Capital industry, and is an example of how the IVCA continues to evolve with the industry. To sum it up … I feel grateful, proud and humbled.
IVCA: In working within the structure of the IVCA, what specifics goals did you want for the association as you came into decision making process?
Palcheck: The Venture Capital and Private Equity communities are comprised of private investors who invest in private companies. They are important contributors to the ‘job creation’ and ‘innovation’ puzzle in our state, and the IVCA strives to ensure that these entities are given the opportunity to execute on their missions. 
That said, my goal for the Association is quite simple: I hope to leave the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois better places to do business than when I first entered the Venture Capital arena and joined the Association. I want the Association to help ensure that we have the tools and people to create a vibrant economy, attract and retain the best talent, and create quality and desired jobs for our citizens. Through the work of the Association, we have built a strong foundation to create opportunities for our residents; whether they are recent college grads from our top-tier universities, experienced workers or people in the twilight of their careers.  
IVCA: Those are great goals. How do you realize them?
Palcheck: The IVCA team realizes those goals through a variety of methods including a succession of interactions with our legislators, and our efforts to create the ‘right awareness’ of what we do, along with why and how we do it. We have also stepped up our efforts to open doors for the under-represented in our communities.
The truth is that when I started with the IVCA, the association was doing quite well, so part of my goal was just to ‘keep the trains running on time.’ However, I also wanted to make certain to prepare ourselves for the future. I think we’ve done that through the recruitment of new members, the selection of new board members and the appointment of the next generation of IVCA officers. The IVCA will, and should, remain an essential contributor in our VC/PE community, and I am honored to play a part in making that happen.

IVCA: What is your impression of the legislative process in Springfield? What has surprised you positively and not as positively?
Palcheck: Our previous and current governor hail from the industries that we represent. I think our state is quite unique regarding that fact. During my tenure with the IVCA, I’ve had the pleasure – and I really do mean pleasure – of meeting with several of our legislators. When I reflect on all the meetings we’ve had, the consistent theme is that these are good people who want to do great things for their constituents. They want to learn and make educated decisions to benefit society. I guess that wasn’t really a surprise, but rather a positive realization.
One area of improvement I see is the opportunity to improve the transparency of the legislative process. Constrained by inaccurate and incomplete information, it is very difficult for well-intentioned people to make the best decisions. Certainly, we can all appreciate human nature, and we can relate to making tough decisions associated with trading short-term ‘pain’ for long-term gain. However, that can’t be done in an environment that lacks transparency or has people with personal agendas. That being said, I believe that while Springfield is not as efficient as it could be, it does appear to be well-intentioned.

IVCA: In advocating for the VC and PE industries through the IVCA, what progress do you see in the public impressions and public relations of those industries?
Palcheck: We’ve definitely made progress, but we need to be vigilant. The five most valuable companies in the country right now – Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Alphabet [Google] and Facebook – all started as Venture-backed companies. I’d argue that EVERYONE in our society benefits greatly from the innovation that those companies and other VC-backed and Private Equity-backed companies deliver like Uber, Instacart, SpaceX, Moderna… and more.
Our country depends on innovation and we both want AND NEED to lead the world in ‘What’s next?’. That requires a healthy VC and PE ecosystem in which investors are willing to risk their money to support our nation’s next groundbreaking idea. We must encourage entrepreneurs to take risks on developing solutions, and we need to provide them the capital to do what they do best, which is innovate. Our industry is critical and unique in providing entrepreneurs and developers with capital which enables them to develop solutions for society. 
Hopefully we continue to promote this message as strongly as we have done so far. I am hopeful that the next great ‘Unicorns’ come from Chicago, and that we will champion – along with entities like 1871 – the next great set of successful companies.

IVCA: How has the expansion of your interactions with other industry professionals within the IVCA enhanced your professional work at Zebra Ventures?
Palcheck: From the first day I joined the organization, the IVCA was, and continues to be, warm and welcoming. It has created a multitude of opportunities for interaction and engagement. Whether providing topical educational events for a specific function – such as for CFOs – or events that enable an open dialogue in a trusted environment with other industry professionals, the IVCA has been fantastic for anyone in our state who is a part of Private Equity or Venture Capital, or more importantly who seeks to be a part of these industries.
As a side note, when I refer to the IVCA community, it includes my fellow investors, as well as our service provider partners … in accounting, law and our educational systems.
IVCA: Finally, given the strange year of 2020, and the ongoing pandemic situation, what message do you want to give the association members for remaining optimistic about the future?
Palcheck: Most people in our business are optimistic. After all, they have to be in order to put their money in companies that are expected to operate at a loss for years, with the hope that the company will develop a breakthrough technology in some technical field that changes the game. 
My industry colleagues and I must understand and mitigate the risks as best we can, but this IS the industry that funds innovation so we must retain our positivity and drive. My biggest takeaway from my experience with the IVCA is that the association has no shortage of intelligent, caring and thoughtful people who run the firms that fund the companies that improve the lives of … well … everyone. 
IVCA: That’s a great compliment to the resilience of the VC and PE industries.
Palcheck: At their core, the people in this industry are among the fastest moving, most agile and most adaptable in business. These key characteristics give us the resilience to weather this pandemic. The innovation that is happening on the vaccine and treatment front will help us advance to the new normal, and some of those solutions are being developed by companies that are backed by Venture Capital and Private Equity.

At Zebra, we are passionate about the evolving supply chain and how a new level of performance and resilience is required of supply chains during the pandemic – both in essential and less essential industries. That passion and focus guided our investments in key areas like warehouse automation, advanced data capture solutions, and supply chain analytics to help enable our customers to deliver the right product to the right place at the right time. As vaccines and treatments are distributed around the country and world, it is highly likely that they will be tagged and tracked with technologies provided by Zebra.

Lastly, I’m quite confident that when new problems surface, it will be those from our industry who will seek out and fund the companies that provide solutions to these problems.  That what makes us tick, and makes this industry so fascinating and rewarding.
Kirkand & Ellis LLP presents The 2020 IVCA Virtual Awards Event on Monday, December 7th, 2020, from 4pm-6pm. For sponsorship and individual ticket information,  click here.