Melissa Kaufman, Executive Director of The Garage, Northwestern University
Kevin Willer, Partner, Chicago Ventures
with John Pletz, Tech Writer, Crain's Chicago Business
Melissa Kaufman is a startup veteran and entrepreneur with a decade of experience at consumer technologies companies in Silicon Valley. She has worked in-house at Google, YouTube, Polyvore (acquired by Yahoo),and Luvocracy (acquired by WalMart Labs). Most recently, she built her own influencer marketing agency called Storylark. Melissa received her BA in computer science from Dartmouth College in 2003.
John Pletz is a senior reporter and blogger covering technology and venture capital, with a focus on Chicago’s startup scene. John joined Crain’s in 2007 from the Indianapolis Star, where he was assistant business editor. Previously, he edited and reported on tech companies at the Austin American-Statesman in Austin, Texas. In the early 1990s, he was a reporter with the Post-Tribune in Gary, and the Herald-News in Joliet. John has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Kevin Willer is a Partner at Chicago Ventures, a seed-stage venture capital fund, where he oversees all aspects of Chicago Ventures including fund management, deal sourcing and investments, and working directly with portfolio companies.
From 2011 to 2013, Kevin was the President & CEO of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC). The CEC manages, operates, and programs 1871, a leading co-working center serving hundreds of startups building their early-stage businesses located at Chicago’s famed Merchandise Mart. During this time, Kevin was also a Venture Partner at Pritzker Group Venture Capital, overseeing their early-stage Seed Investments.