5 Questions with Joey Mak, ED of Chicago:Blend

Jul 11, 2022

Joey Mak, Chicago:Blend’s first Executive Director, leads the organization’s mission to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in Chicago’s venture capital and startup community. He has more than 15 years of experience working in community and economic development, most recently as the head of programs at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. Joey serves on the board of directors at the Chinese Mutual Aid Association and, in 2019, was included on the “Notable LGBTQ Executives” list by Crain’s Chicago Business.

Lindsay Knight is a partner at Chicago Ventures, where she oversees the firm's post-investment team. In 2018, she founded Chicago:Blend and currently serves as president of its board of directors. Lindsay is a former Chair of the VC Platform Global Community and serves on the Governing Board at Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre.

01. What is the elevator pitch for Chicago:Blend?

Founded in 2018 by local venture capitalists, Chicago:Blend is committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in Chicago's venture capital and startup community. We publish annual data to measure diversity across the tech ecosystem, provide DEI resources to VCs and their portfolio companies, and have a four-month fellowship program to help underrepresented, aspiring VCs break into venture.

02. How does Chicago:Blend create a more diverse and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem?

DEI is at the very heart of our mission, but our Chicago Venture Fellows program is the most direct way that we are helping to increase diversity within Chicago's VC workforce. It is a four-month program that provides cohorts of 10 underrepresented, aspiring VCs with mentorship, professional development, and formal venture finance training. During the program, fellows actively source companies for potential VC investment, and pitch those companies to real VCs that are part of Chicago:Blend's network. The fellows are eligible to receive a finder's fee for sourcing companies that are ultimately funded. Fellows also receive a stipend, are paired with a VC mentor, and get guaranteed access to VC University through Venture Forward/UC-Berkeley and other networking opportunities. 

03. How will support from the Techstars Foundation and the Techstars network further the mission of Chicago:Blend?

Chicago:Blend is a relatively young non-profit organization, so support from the Techstars Foundation will enable us to expand our staff capacity so we can continue to expand our programs and offerings.

04. How did you come to do this work and why is it important to you personally?

Chicago:Blend was founded by local venture capitalists in 2018 on the heels of the #MeToo movement. At the time, many portfolio companies were contacting their investors asking how they could do better and be better, but unfortunately, many VC firms found themselves poorly equipped to advise their companies on DEI, which provided space for an organization like Chicago:Blend to meet a very real need.

Chicago:Blend formally incorporated in 2020 and, in 2021, sought to hire its first full-time executive director to help grow the organization and accelerate its mission. It was at that time that I entered the picture. In my previous role at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, I oversaw the organization's small business support function and launched its first-ever DEI initiative. As someone who is deeply passionate about the equitable distribution of capital, I came across Chicago:Blend and immediately fell in love with its mission and the opportunity to create a more inclusive tech ecosystem, particularly for underrepresented and marginalized founders. Over the past 15 months, it has truly been a privilege to execute on that mission.

05. Tell us the story of a VC you are proud to have supported.

The Chicago Venture Fellows program started as a pilot program with GET Cities that included five participating fellows and I’m proud to have supported each one. Upon completing the program, one fellow landed a full-time job at Acrew Capital and another secured an internship at Harlem Capital. Additionally, one company that was sourced by a different fellow ultimately raised funding. Chicago:Blend secured grant funding to scale the program, which launched its summer cohort in May 2022. Since the cohort started, two fellows have already interviewed for jobs at local VC firms, which were a direct result of connections facilitated through the program. 

Chicago:Blend is a participant in the Accelerate Equity program of the Techstars Foundation in 2022.

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