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Built In Chicago

The non-profit group Built In Chicago analyzed data from 2011 and found that it was a big, big year for web-based startups in the city.

128 new companies launched last year, and the total amount of new capital raised by web-based companies in Chicago was up 431 percent.  A hefty chunk of that increase came from Groupon. But even excluding the coupon giant, funding of Chicago’s web startups was up 75.8 percent.

UPDATE: Maria Katris, Executive Director of Built In Chicago, estimates in an email to us that the the 128 businesses launched last year created 700-1,000 jobs. And the digital sector as a whole is responsible for 25,000 – 30,000+ jobs for the Chicago area. Built In Chicago also looks at the top 50 digital companies in the Windy City and finds that they’ve created more than 11,500 jobs.

And there are signs that Chicagoans are preparing for some long-term growth in this area. We told you last month about 1871, a new 50,000 square foot startup tech center in Chicago. And companies from other parts of the country are starting to take notice of Chicago’s tech talent, particularly in the sales and marketing world.

Katris says she expects further growth in the coming years. She tells us:

In 2011, a new startup launched every third day.  We predict you will see a new startup launching every other day in 2012, and every day in 2013.

Venture Capitalist, entrepreneur and blogger Brad Feld highlighted Chicago’s startup activity in a blog post yesterday.

Feld said what’s happening in Chicago “is a great example of what happens when entrepreneurs take a long term view to building their startup community.”


Dustin Dwyer

Bing Goei came to the United States as a child. Now he runs a company with 60 employees and more than $5 million in annual revenue.

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In many ways, the headquarters for Eastern Floral in Grand Rapids, Mich. is like a factory. It’s in an old building with brick walls. The floor is smooth, cold concrete. A noisy printer rattles off new orders.

But of course, it smells amazing in here. Designers stand at long wooden tables, primping and pruning flowers. Red tulips. White daisies. Yellow roses. And just about any other flower you can imagine.

Bing Goei, the owner, says this work is more like artistry.

“I think you have to be born with that.” he says. “I was not. I admit it.”

Goei says this with a laugh.

But he was born with something else that turned out to be its own asset. He was born with a foreign birth certificate. His parents were Chinese. He was born in Indonesia, then moved to the Netherlands. From there, they moved to Grand Rapids, like a lot of Dutch people before them. Except, they have a Chinese name.

And like many of those immigrants before him, Goei worked hard. He started in the flower business in high school. Now, Eastern Floral has seven locations, about 60 year-round employees – twice that around Valentine’s Day – and the company has over $5 million in annual revenue.

Goei says being an immigrant, and being an entrepreneur, there’s a connection there.

“Almost every immigrant that comes to this country has come because they see America as that land of opportunity,” he says. “So immediately, their drive is to fulfill that dream.”

The data on this backs Goei up.

The Kauffman Foundation reports that immigrants are twice as likely as people born in America to start a business.

Richard Herman is an immigration attorney in Cleveland. Herman and Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Robert Smith wrote a book called Immigration, Inc.

Herman could go on all day with stats about how entrepreneurial immigrants to the U.S. are.

“Immigrants are filing patents at a two-to-one ratio [compared to] American-born,” he says. “Immigrants are more likely to have advanced degrees than American-born.”

The Kauffman Foundation

From "America's New Immigrant Entrepreneurs," by the Kauffman Foundation (click for larger version).

And there’s more:

Immigration is controversial in this country right now, because of added social service and enforcement costs, and because many believe unemployed American-born people could fill some of the jobs taken up by immigrants.

But in study after study, the data all points in one direction: Immigrants create more jobs than they take.

In the Midwest at least, policy makers are starting to take notice.

“I’m not into the politics of immigration, says Michael Finney, who heads up the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. “The facts of immigration says it’s good any place in the United States. The politics of it, obviously, says something different. And I think there’s just an awful lot of confusion with regard to the kind of immigration that’s really good for the United States.”

Finney says his office does work to increase opportunities for people born here.

“But we’d be remiss if we decided to ignore or work against the immigrant population,” Finney says. “Particularly those that are educated at our universities, and in many cases, they’re earning advanced degrees. And after completing those advanced degrees, we’re requiring them to leave the United States and go back to their country, and compete against us.”

Retaining and attracting immigrants has become a major focus for Finney, and the man who hired him, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. They’ve started an initiative called Global Michigan.

More programs like it are popping up in the Midwest. In the next story for our series, we’ll look at some of those efforts.

The hope is, investing in immigrants will pay off, like it has many times before in this country.


Right to Work, right away Indiana is expected to be the first state in the industrial Midwest to become a Right to Work state. And it could happen as soon as today. Right to Work rules prohibit companies from negotiating contracts with their unions that make union membership mandatory. Instead, workers will have a choice whether to join the union. Business leaders say the changes will make Indiana more competitive. Union leaders say the changes will let some workers benefit from union bargaining without having to pay to support the union. They say it will ultimately weaken the union.

Pentastar profits Chrysler had its first profitable year since 1997.

Start up money A group of 44 Chicago business leaders are starting a new tech investment fund. Meanwhile, the state of Michigan is thinking of launching its own start-up fund.

Honda invests Honda is expected to announce new investments in two Ohio plants today.

A deal in Detroit The Detroit Free Press reports the city has reached agreements with its unions that could keep the city solvent, and avoid a state takeover.