CIE Seeks Ties With Chinese Investors

“The Chinese market is growing rapidly and is an ideal market to expand the CIE reach.”

By Shereen Al-Sawwaf

The UChicago-based start-up and entrepreneurial center, the Chicago Innovation Exchange (CIE), is bringing Chinese investors to the Chicago start-up scene in an effort to expand global relationships and bring in more investment capital.

With the help of World Business Chicago, the CIE partnered with Shandong University last summer. Shandong University, based in Qingdao, China, stated that it hoped this partnership will help inform the creation of its own innovation hub.

“The partnership between CIE/Polsky Center and Shandong University was in part to support and provide guidance for Shandong’s new innovation facility in Qingdao, but also to build the framework for programs that will give faculty and student innovators and entrepreneurs in both locations the opportunity to work together and cooperate on endeavors in science, technology, and commercialization,” CIE Executive Director John Flavin wrote in an e-mail.

In February, Chinese investors came to the CIE for the Sino-U.S. Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition, which was co-hosted by the Qingdao Municipal Government and Shandong University. The pitch competition aimed to attract Chicago-based entrepreneurs to China to expand their new businesses and help grow Chinese entrepreneurial culture.

“The competition brought opportunities and potential Chinese investment dollars to local Chicago startups, and three CIE startups made it to the finals to compete in China,” Flavin said. “Two of those companies, Tovala and NETenergy, placed in the competition, expanding their opportunities for capital and global reach because of the partnership.”

The winning teams sent representatives to Qingdao to compete against 75 other teams from around the world for $130,000 worth of prizes. Entrepreneurs also competed for up to 2,000 square feet of office space in Qingdao’s Sino-U.S. Technology and Innovation Park.

“The Chinese market is growing rapidly and is an ideal market to expand the CIE reach,” Flavin said. “It’s part of our strategy to establish partnerships like the one in China with Shandong and we will be looking for others in other emerging markets as we continue to expand our reach.”