“People First”: Talking PR and Chicago Tech with Hyde Park Angels’ Alida Miranda-Wolff

We at 3Points are proud to share that we have recently become partners with Hyde Park Angels. This collaboration is very exciting for us, as it will allow us to expand our reach in Chicago tech and work with an increasing number of innovative, growing companies.

Recently, we sat down with HPA’s Director of Platform, Alida Miranda-Wolff, to discuss HPA’s work, the Chicago tech scene, and all the things that keep her busy — very busy. Read on to learn more.

Alida Miranda-Wolff

Can you give our readers a brief overview of Hyde Park Angels and the work you do?

Hyde Park Angels is the most active investor in the Midwest. We’re an investor in early-stage startups, and we only invest here in Chicago. We did 27 deals last year at $8 million; to give you some perspective, the next most active investor in Chicago did 14 deals.

At Hyde Park Angels, we take a “People First” approach to investing. Lots of firms invest financial capital, but we focus on human capital too. To be an investor, you have to have started, scaled, and sold your own business or be running it now — either operators or seasoned investors. Some of the people in our network include the CEO of Gogo, the CEO of Jellyvision, and the founder of SkinnyPop. And these people invest because they want to lead with human capital. With our portfolio companies, we focus on adding value so we can grow them, which naturally promotes the cycle of returns.

What types of companies can one find in the HPA portfolio?

We invest across three verticals: Digital Media and Technology, Business and Financial services, and Consumer Products and Services. About 90% of our companies are tech-enabled. They may not be profitable — most are not — but they’ve all shown that they’ve built something and that they have traction. Some are further along than others, but they’re typically Seed to Series A.

What do you do specifically at HPA?

In my role as Director of Platform, I focus on four core areas: investors, partners, brand, and portfolio support as it relates to those three.

The first part of my role, working with investors, involves recruiting new investors, taking them through the application process, matching people with deals and other members of group, measuring engagement, and assigning a proprietary score to make sure everyone is where they need to be.

The second part of my role involves managing partners, which includes Industry Partners and Corporate Sponsors. Industry Partners are corporate innovators, corporate venture capitalists, and coastal venture capitalists. Our corporate sponsors look to provide services to our portfolio companies and members. We’ve found that being able to make connections between our partners and our portfolio companies is what founders identify as the most helpful part of the portfolio company services we offer. We have 40+ active portfolio companies currently, and since April, a little over 100 such connections have been made.

The third part of my role relates to the brand — I do everything from building the initial strategic communications plan to executing it. Any content from HPA goes through me — videos, podcasts, blogs, posts on all social media channels, and a lot of contributed pieces as well. I do all our PR and marketing, including for our events. Our flagship event is the Entrepreneur Education Series — it’s a four-part series that takes entrepreneurs through the investing process from start to finish.

That brings me to the fourth part of my role, which is portfolio company support. That means helping portfolio companies connect with our investors and partners, as well as develop their brand, marketing, and PR efforts.

How did you become part of the HPA team?

I attended the University of Chicago. Education is super important to me, and I was very hungry to work immediately, both in and out of school. I was a double major in English and Law, Letters and Society (an interdisciplinary major), with a minor in Romance Languages, so I knew I had valuable, but not marketable, skills. For the first two and a half years of college, I wanted to be a lawyer. But I was the type of person who would have loved law school, but not being a lawyer, which led me down a different path.

At the time, there was a new entrepreneurship office at UChicago. They told me to go work at a startup, especially because I had already started three student organizations and held a number of different jobs by that time and had the “entrepreneurial bug.” So I went to work for a startup. The company didn’t succeed, but I developed a lot of skills, and I learned how much entrepreneurs don’t know about venture capital.

Then I began a sort of internship at HPA as a Junior Associate. I shadowed the Consumer Products and Services Associate before getting bumped to an Associate on that team. That allowed me to work more directly with companies and gain a lot of experience. After the program, I left and went to work in industrial supplies as a kind of consultant.

Later, HPA started looking for a Program Manager. I was already managing people at that time and was at a different place in my career, so I recommended other people. But our conversations continued, and soon there was a chance to do more, so I became Associate Manager at HPA three years ago. Then in December 2016, I became Director of Platform.

How does early-stage investing in Chicago compare with other cities?

From a metrics standpoint, Chicago is a great place — in fact, the best place — to be an investor, because there are better returns than in the rest of the country. The cost of living is lower, cost of operations is lower, and employee retention is higher (people tend to be close-knit and stay together). All that has a real impact on metrics. We see 10x more exits than any other region.

As the ecosystem is evolving and maturing, we have repeat founders, reinvesting in the community after harvesting returns. You see the same players again and again.

It’s also good from a qualitative perspective. I know every VC in Chicago, and we’re very collaborative, not super competitive. There’s a lot of goodwill being shared. The idea of value-add is really erupting in Chicago. There are a lot of entrepreneurs and investors who really want to give back. It’s something that I think is fundamentally midwestern — wanting to help people and give back to the community.

What trends are you noticing within the Chicago tech scene over the past few years?

From an industry standpoint, there’s been an eruption of IoT. Chicago has become a real powerhouse in that area. We’re also strong in data analytics, and AI is becoming bigger for us.

We’ve always been strong in B2B tech platforms, but now we’re seeing those early companies mature, and that sector is growing even more.

These companies are making acquisitions, expanding their footprints, and laying the groundwork for more companies like them here in Chicago. We’re a more mature community now — where we are versus. where we were three years ago is fundamentally different.

We have more collaboration and collisions that create more companies. Founders want to build connections and learn things together. There’s also been an explosion in incubators and accelerators, which has a lot to do with the universities in the city, which are investing in tech now. Everyone is really investing in it, which is great, because it allows for more incubators and accelerators to form and for people to get started earlier.

How can startups utilize PR? And when is a startup ready for PR?

It all comes down to the objectives of a company. My biggest piece of advice for marketing and communications is that each company make a strategic plan around communications. Starting with a core plan is critical. I don’t have a lot of catchphrases, but one that I often repeat is “first minute over last minute.” Do all of your work upfront, so when you execute, it’s seamless.

To that end, companies need to define their mission (what they aspire to do) and vision (who they aspire to be). Once they define what is most important, they need to decide on a strategy for communicating core messages — which stakeholders to hit, which people to target with what, and which channels to use. You need to do all this from the get-go. And that’s where PR comes in.

We get a lot of questions about PR. Sometimes company leaders aren’t sure if they’re in a financial position to utilize PR help, but if they’re not looking at it in terms of their business objectives, they won’t know if the cost is high or low. For some, it is too expensive, but for others, it really isn’t in the longer term. Working with the right agency can produce major rewards and returns.

PR is more than the number of press hits. It’s everything from earned media in the Chicago Tribune or Wall Street Journal to awards to contributed content to events. You need to think of where the customers are — and that’s where you need to be.

Stay tuned for our conversation with HPA’s Managing Director, Pete Wilkins, which will be released in November.