Meet the ChicagoNEXT Inclusive Entrepreneurship Leadership Council
The newly formed Leadership Council, made up of civic and business leaders, will work closely with ChicagoNEXT to provide leadership and guidance to the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge program and cohort. Members of the ChicagoNEXT Inclusive Entrepreneurship Council will offer strategic direction for the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge, mentor and advise the grantees, and use their convening power to support program events. More broadly, members will assist ChicagoNEXT with its vision of inclusive entrepreneurship for our local tech economy. The Blackstone Challenge is the first program of this effort.
Acting Assistant Director
Illinois Department of Central Management Services
Jimmy Odom was co-founder and Senior Vice President for Innovation and Entrepreneurship of Intersect Illinois, the State’s public-private partnership driving business and economic opportunity. He is the immediate past Senior Advisor for Minority Business Development at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. In that role, Jimmy worked with communities across the state to help create, develop, and mature minority-owned businesses in the State of Illinois. Before joining the Department of Commerce, Jimmy founded WeDeliver, the largest hyper-local logistics service in Chicago. As CEO of WeDeliver, Jimmy was responsible for creating, communicating and implementing the vision, mission, and corporate direction. Prior to launching WeDeliver, Jimmy worked at Apple Inc. as the Head of Customer Experience for the Midwest region. Jimmy has been recognized by many business leaders within the Midwest entrepreneurial community. IBM awarded his team North America’s Most Innovative Company Award (2014). The Chicago Urban League presented him with the Chicago Urban League Innovator Award that same year (2014). He was featured on Crain’s Business Chicago’s 50 Most Influential People list (2014) and at the Moxie Awards his peers voted him the Best Founder in Chicago (2014). Jimmy was raised in Chicago, Illinois and now resides in Homewood with his wife and three children.
JP Morgan Chase & Co
Laura Ferris Anderson manages strategic planning and initiative implementation for the region’s senior leadership across multiple business lines and staff functions. She had served as a Senior Banker in J.P. Morgan’s private banking business, managing relationships and banking needs for a wide variety of clients, including corporate executives and business owners. Previously, Laura served as a Director of Payments Strategy, eCommerce, and of a major image enabled transformation of check processing. She also has experience in consulting and government affairs. An active civic leader, Anderson serves on the Executive Committees of the Board of Directors of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center and of the Wood Family Foundation. She serves on the Board of Directors of the IL Mentoring Partnership and the Advisory Board of Best Buddies Illinois as well as the Women’s Boards of the Field Museum and the Joffrey Ballet. She is a member of the Alumni Board of Governors of Georgetown University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science, a Master of Public Policy and a Master of Business Administration. A native of Massachusetts, Anderson lives in Chicago with her husband, Matt, and their daughter, Ellen.
CEO, CIO & Founder
Heard Capital LLC
William Heard is Chief Executive Officer, Chief Investment Officer and Founder of Heard Capital LLC. Mr. Heard is a graduate of the Marquette University College of Business Administration with degrees in both Finance and Real Estate. Prior to starting Heard Capital LLC, Mr. Heard was a Special Situations Analyst for Stark Investments, a global alternative investment firm. Mr. Heard’s investment experience varies across the capital structure to include leveraged loans, high yield bonds and equity securities. While at Stark Investments, Mr. Heard covered the telecommunications, media, technology, financials, industrials, and energy sectors. Mr. Heard founded and established the Applied Investment Management (AIM) Program at Marquette University. AIM was the first undergraduate business program in the nation to be selected as a Program Partner by the CFA Institute. A strong proponent of higher education, Mr. Heard gives motivational speeches to high school and college students about leadership, globalism, and the nature of competition. In his spare time, Mr. Heard enjoys mentoring youth and reading autobiographies. Mr. Heard currently serves on the Leadership Council for A Better Chicago, the Advisory Board for Beyond Sports, the Ambassadors Board for the Chicago Children’s Choir, as well as actively participates in OneGoal; local organizations creating opportunities for today’s youth and low-income population.
Director of Community Health
JB & MK Pritzker Family Foundation
Adolfo Hernandez is Director of Community Health for the JB & MK Pritzker Family Foundation which invests in people and programs that enrich the life experiences of Chicago’s children. Previously, Adolfo served as the first Director of the Chicago Mayor’s Office of New Americans, an office focused on helping out immigrants. He is very dedicated to his job, which is helping out the newcomers who have adopted Chicago as their home. He is a Chicago native, but is very familiar with his cultural roots. Even though growing up in Little Village allowed him to get to know his culture more, it also brought some minor obstacles in his life. His work in the community ranges from volunteering at the local “Y” to making policy changes at the citywide level. Mr. Hernandez is of Mexican descent and has visited Jalisco, Mexico almost every summer since he was born. Adolfo started his community work with direct service for the people, but now works on policy change, where he believes he makes more long-term change and helps more people.
Israel Idonije Foundation
Israel Idonije is a defensive end for the NY Giants, the founder of the Israel Idonije Foundation, and an entrepreneur. A defensive lineman in the National Football League since 2003, Israel Idonije's talent on the field is augmented by his intellect, business acumen, and passion for service. He leads several successful business ventures including Blessed Communion, the industry leader in pre-filled communion cups, and Athlitacomics, a boutique publishing company creating and developing content and properties in the merged niche market of comics and sports. In 2007, he started The Israel Idonije Foundation to help underprivileged children in Chicago, Winnipeg, Canada and West Africa. Thousands of children have benefitted from IIF’s programs, which focus on social and emotional life skills.
Director, Civic Engagement
Shelley Stern Grach is the Director of Civic Engagement for the Technology and Civic Engagement (TCE) group at Microsoft Corporation based in Chicago. Stern Grach focuses on the intersection between community awareness and utilization of MS Philanthropies, YouthSpark’s digital literacy curriculum, and creating the pipeline for STEM skills and careers for students and entrepreneurs. She leads local policy and thought leadership programs on innovation, responsible business leadership and helps civic leaders and communities harness new technologies to enhance public discussion and improve economic mobility. Stern Grach is a past chair/board member of nonprofits Lumity, Women’s Business Development Center, Skills for Chicagoland’s Future/Chicago Career Tech, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and Year Up Chicago. She is a current board member of Forefront, ThriveChicago, the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition (ISTC/I) and LISC Chicago. Shelley’s civic participation includes the Economic Club of Chicago, service on the Mayor’s Council to Bridge the Digital Divide, serving on State of Illinois’ Task Forces and as a past Commissioner on the State of Illinois Economic Recovery Commission for Education. Stern earned a double B.A. at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan and an M.A. in business from Central Michigan University.
Founder, Digital Youth Network
Associate Professor, College of Computing & Digital Media, DePaul University
Nichole Pinkard is an Associate Professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University in Chicago. She is the founder of Digital Youth Network, co-founder of Inquirium LLC and Remix Learning, home of iRemix, a social learning platform that connects youth learning opportunities in school, home, and beyond. In collaboration with the Chicago Public Library, Dr. Pinkard helped found YOUmedia, a public learning space that immerses high school students in a context of traditional media – books – to make and produce new media artifacts like music, games, videos, and virtual worlds. Dr. Pinkard is the recipient of a 2014 Northwestern Alumni Award, a 2010 Common Sense Media Award for Outstanding Commitment to Creativity and Youth, and the 2004 the Jan Hawkins Award for Early Career Contributions to Humanistic Research and Scholarship in Learning Technologies, an NSF Early CAREER Fellowship, and a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for research on how digital media affects literacy. She holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University, an M.S. in Computer Science and a Ph.D. in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University.
Neal Sales-Griffin serves as CEO of CodeNow, which holds free weekend coding workshops at the offices of sponsor companies. Since 2011, more than 1,800 students have attended the three-day workshops in multiple cities. The program targets middle school and high school students from underrepresented backgrounds. Neal also co-founded The Starter League, a coding and entrepreneurship school that was one of the first tenants in 1871 (acquired in 2016 by Fullstack Academy). Since opening in 2011, the school launched several companies, including one that raised nearly $1 million in venture capital. He and co-founder Mike McGee met while students at Northwestern University. The school also helped students network with investors and successful entrepreneurs. Sales-Griffin previously worked as an analyst with Chicago venture firm and startup incubator Sandbox Industries. While a student at Northwestern, he researched video games, technology and for-profit education startups for OCA Ventures.
President & CEO
CS Insurance Strategies Inc
Charles Smith is Founder and CEO of CS Insurance Strategies, an emerging minority-owned commercial insurance brokerage headquartered in downtown Chicago. He is also the Founder of My Health Method, one of the few certified, minority-owned corporate wellness companies in Chicago. In 2007, Charles headed the Chicago office of West Insurance Agency, one the largest minority-owned commercial insurance brokerages in the United States. In 2009, he became the Chief Executive Officer by the acquiring of the Chicago branch and launching CS Insurance Strategies. In 2014, Charles developed My Health Method, a comprehensive wellness company that paves the path to population health visibility and improvement. To fuel growth and innovative ideas, Method was accepted into MATTER, an organization of entrepreneurs and industry leaders who are passionate about creating products and services that advance the healthcare industry. He holds a Bachelors of Arts degree and has completed a Master’s of Science degree at DePaul University. Most recently, Charles received the 2015 Crains Chicago Business 40 under 40 Award. Charles has served as an Illinois Delegate at the 2012 Democratic National Convention for President Obama, completed the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small businesses program and received an award through Ariel Investments/WVON for being one of Chicago’s 40 Game Changers under 40.
Blackstone Charitable Association
Amy Stursberg serves as Executive Director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, where she has overseen and led Blackstone’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, bringing four innovative programs to twenty states across the county. Prior to joining Blackstone in 2008, Ms. Stursberg served on the transition team for Governor Eliot Spitzer. She also managed the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s award of $35 million in cultural enhancement grants and $30 million in community grants in Lower Manhattan. Previously, Ms. Stursberg served as Director of the September 11th Fund and held various positions at the Office of Management and Budget at the Office of the Mayor in the City of New York, as well as at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. She has also served as a university administrator and foundation officer. Ms. Stursberg received her BA with honors from the University of Michigan and her Master’s in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She was recently appointed to serve on the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE).
Professor, University of Chicago Booth School of Business
As both an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Tebbe aids students in their entrepreneurial efforts and helps other professors enhance their classes. Outside of the classroom, in addition to being a prolific angel investor, Tebbe volunteers as Chairman of ChicagoNEXT, a dedicated public-private effort to raise Chicago’s profile in science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. In 1984, Mark founded Lante Corporation, a Chicago-based technology-consulting firm in which he served as CEO and Chairman. Tebbe launched the technology advisory firm that helped to create over 250 new businesses as well as building backend infrastructure and websites for established companies including Microsoft, Dell, American Airlines, American Express and Charles Schwab. Tebbe also served as an Operating Executive at Lake Capital where he was involved in guiding and aiding numerous portfolio companies with strategy development, operational refinement, and execution monitoring, as well as investment evaluation, structuring and negotiation. Mark and his wife also philanthropically support numerous children-oriented, educational, and environmental causes.
Wind Point Partners
Mr. Alex E. Washington, III, is a Managing Director at Wind Point Partners. He joined the firm in 2002. Mr. Washington served as a Senior Associate at Whitney & Co., LLC where he focused on investments in the information technology area. Previously, he served as a Business Analyst at McKinsey & Company, Inc. He serves on the Board of Evans Food Group. He serves as a Director of Argotec, Novolex (fka Hilex), Dicom Transportation Group, L.P., and Vertellus Specialties. Mr. Washington served as a Director at Summit Professional Networks, LLC and ArrMaz Custom Chemicals. He received an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School, where he graduated as a Member of Class VI of the Kauffman Fellows and a B.A. in Finance from the Morehouse College.
Vice President, Strategic Initiatives & Resources Development, IFF
Susana Vasquez serves as Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Resources Development for IFF, a mission-driven lender, real estate consultant, and developer that creates opportunities for low-income communities and people with disabilities. Previously she served as the executive director of the Chicago office of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a citywide leader in the development and implementation of innovative neighborhood-based initiatives in such areas as health, safety, education, digital access and economic development. Previously she was LISC’s director of the Chicago office's New Communities Program (NCP), a ten-year initiative to build organizational capacity and support comprehensive community development across 16 neighborhoods. Ms. Vasquez earned a master's degree from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Ms. Vasquez serves on the Advisory Committee of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, the Board of Directors for ChangeLab Solutions, and the Aspen Institute’s Dialogue on Public Libraries Advisory Committee.
Deputy Mayor & Chief Neighborhood Development Officer City of Chicago
Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp serves also as Chief Neighborhood Development Officer of the City of Chicago to further drive the Mayor’s neighborhood strategy designed to improve the quality of life in every corner of the city. Zopp, the former president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, brings an impressive record to the newly created role, a record of building stronger neighborhoods, driving economic opportunity, improving our schools and reducing crime on our streets. With a second Deputy Mayor position, the City of Chicago has one individual specifically responsible for making sure every city project and every city dollar expands opportunities for Chicagoans. Zopp’s leadership while driving the work of the entire administration through the lens of building better neighborhoods – from city services to infrastructure to education to economic development to public safety and expanding opportunities in struggling communities. Zopp has dedicated her life to improving Chicago’s neighborhoods, and to public service. She has served as a prosecutor, both as an Assistant United States Attorney and she was also the first woman and African American to serve as the First Assistant in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. As President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, Zopp focused on expanding economic opportunity in the city’s struggling neighborhoods. She and her husband are residents of the Morgan Park community.