Alongside the start of the Chicago Bulls 2019-2020 season, another showdown has been starting to take place off the hardwood.
On October 3, the Bulls partnered with LOUD Capital – a Columbus-based venture capital firm – to launch the Chicago Bulls Venture Competition. Offered for Chicago-based entrepreneurs, it allows them to win $50,000 in investments and services from LOUD Capital.
To submit their application, participants need to visit the CBVC website and submit a 90-second pitch video. Each round of the competition will be judged by Chicago business professionals involved in industries like startup development, professional sports, community engagement, and government.
The CBVC’s five finalists will be announced during halftime of a Bulls game at the United Center in spring 2020. A winner will also be named that night and will receive a $50,000 investment from LOUD Capital as well as legal, promotional, and business development services.
Submissions to get into the CBVC are currently open and close on December 16.
“It’s a really exciting partnership for us – we’ve never done a pitch competition like this before,” said Matt Kobe, the Bulls’ vice president of business strategy and analytics. “It’s going to open up hopefully a ton of new avenues for relationships for both us and LOUD Capital – and generally, we’re just really excited.”
While Chicago is known for its gusting winds or its Big Four sports teams, the city is emerging as a home for budding venture capitalists, said Kobe. One company that he cited as a major resource for the Windy City’s business scene is 1871, a non-profit digital startup incubator that supports entrepreneurs starting their own businesses.
Noticing the help that 1871 provides local businesses made Kobe realize that the Bulls needed to do more in this space. Other sports teams had already dabbled with accelerator companies.
The Los Angeles Dodgers Accelerator was founded in 2015 in conjunction with R/GA Ventures, with the duo eventually converting the business incubator program into a year-round initiative.
In April 2016, the Philadelphia 76ers became the next squad to collaborate with an accelerator when it partnered with workplace manufacturer Kimball Office for the Sixers Innovation Lab, located at the team’s training facility in Camden, New Jersey.
When finding companies that could elevate the organization in the entrepreneurial sphere, it saw that LOUD Capital was expanding its operations to Chicago – a mere 3.2 miles from the Bulls’ United Center.
“That excited us,” Kobe said. “Any time we see somebody moving to Chicago, that creates an opportunity for us to at least reach out and welcome them to the city. It also helps us try to understand how are they going to build their brand within the city and if we could be helpful in building that brand for them.”
After launching in Columbus, Ohio, in 2015, LOUD Capital added its Chicago office in October 2018, said co-founder and CEO Navin Goyal. Seeing how underdeveloped the business scene is in the Midwest, he wanted to bring the community engagement he started in Columbus over to Chicago.
When the Bulls reached out last December regarding potential partnership opportunities, LOUD Capital didn’t hesitate to respond, said Goyal. Since its inception, he estimates that LOUD Capital has funded roughly 40 companies and helped them grow with those investments.
While the Bulls are the first professional sports team to partner with LOUD Capital, it was still ready to work with a name brand, said Goyal. In March, it launched Legacy Entertainment Ventures, which provides venture-focused services to celebrities within the music, esports, and influencer markets. Now with the Bulls, LOUD Capital is optimistic about using its previous business relationships to help with its Bulls partnership.
“We’re going to be very out in the community,” Goyal said. “But internally we’ve been working and seeing the opportunity of sports and entertainment as a way to connect with entrepreneurship and elevate both sides.”
Even before the submission deadline, the CBVC has elevated both the Bulls and LOUD Capital in their respective missions. Courtesy of the Bulls, Goyal says that numerous companies – both inside and outside the sports world – have inquired about future business opportunities with LOUD Capital. With the company opening another office in Beijing, he sees its growing international reputation as an indicator that entrepreneurship is trending globally.
For Kobe, the hope is to have the CBVC become more than just a one-off event. If the competition extends beyond 2019, the Bulls would like to use the feedback of finalists and winners to see how it can improve for future editions. And not fall into a place of predictability or complacency.
“If we do this next year and we just hit rinse and repeat, is that going to have the same impact as it did this year or do we need to change some things up?” Kobe said. “I think that is the process we’ll go through. We’re just a couple of weeks into year one, but I think hopefully you can sense from our side that we’re excited about this opportunity and what this could potentially become.”