I attended an event in downtown Chicago tonight called MidVentures25, a presentation and competition for 25 startups from Chicago and other parts of the Midwest. One company that participated came all the way from Athens, GA. The event was very well-organized and equally well-attended. The organizers took over 22,000 square feet of "see-through" space in an office building across from the Willis (Sears) Tower for the night.
Each of the startups had a separate display area, much like a trade show. The judges (drawn from companies such as Groupon and Google, as well as VCs and local entrepreneurs) visited all 25 tables, got demonstrations and then chose their five favorite startups to present in the final round. The winner got $16,000 in cash, goods and services. UPDATE: One thing that I forgot to mention when I wrote this post last night is that the startups didn't have to pay a dime to enter the competition or for exhibit space at the event. The event organizers and sponsors picked up all the costs. The TechCrunch50 was the first major startup competition that chose not to charge the selected startups. MidVentures25 has picked up on that trend, and I hope that it becomes the rule, not the exception, in startup competitions in the future.
What's so exciting about this is that Chicago is starting to feel like a viable place to base a startup. There still isn't much of a VC community in Chicago; I'd like to see a "Sand Hill Road East" spring up somewhere in the city, even if it's only remote offices for a handful of VCs from Silicon Valley, New York and Boston. As I've written before, just about everything needed for a vital venture community is here, and the costs of operation are very low compared to Silicon Valley, New York and even Boston.
Tonight's turnout indicates that there's a lot of interest in startups, even though the local culture hasn't exactly been supportive of the startup mindset. Three new incubators recently opened in Chicago, so there will be more opportunities for entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams.