The Spark: 💥Mighty Middle Tops Lists—🦄+1 Midwest Unicorn Exit—🤓Call for Entrepre-NERDs

Power is shifting in Silicon Valley. And the stories in today’s issue of The Spark give you more context to the trends and opportunities that are worth keeping an eye on.

Posted by Powderkeg on Thursday, June 18, 2020


Power is shifting in Silicon Valley. And the stories in today’s issue of The Spark give you more context to the trends and opportunities that are worth keeping an eye on.

Some experts continue to forecast The Valley’s decreasing relevance as remote work officially feels…normal now. And it’s not just remote work that has captured headlines and attention, but remote life in general. 

Grocery-delivery app Instacart officially passed Walmart in the online grocery business this week. Walmart has typically claimed 40-50% of the online grocery market, but that weekly share fell to 25% in March, with Instacart experiencing a peak 57% of business in mid-April.

Does this mean we’ll never leave our homes for food again? 

Probably not, but you’ll never convince me to go back to life before Subscribe and Save.

In Today’s Edition of the Spark:
🏢Mighty Middle Tops Best-Cities Lists—Again
🦄+1 Midwest Unicorn Exit
🤓Calling all Entrepre-NERDs

The Mighty Middle Tops Best-Cities Lists—Again

It’s not us, it’s them. The Midwest still isn’t the first region people imagine bustling business and job opportunities, especially in the tech industry. But changes in this limiting perception continue to add up. 

For example, California, long considered a hotbed for tech, has recently ranked dead last for best cities for business. States like Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan all have cities ranking in the top 15.

Cities outside of traditional tech hubs are steadily ranking higher not only in business but also in the quality of life. Non-coastal cities in states like Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and North Dakota dominate this list of the best American cities to live after the pandemic

However, the sheer size of some of these regions, like the Midwest, presents some challenges. According to Mike Asem, Partner at Chicago-based VC firm M25, tech in the Midwest is “burgeoning with opportunities, but needs some ‘infrastructure support.’” 

This week M25 re-re-re-relaunched Midwest Startups to serve as more “connective tissue” to tech in the Midwest, listing resources such as cities, investors, companies, and job opportunities for those looking to learn about the Midwest tech ecosystem.  

Whether you’re an executive of a company who wants to cash in on this golden opportunity, or a tech specialist seeking a great job and home life, the communities in the mighty middle are increasingly looking like great options.

Tech Communities Act Locally Against Racism

Think globally, act locally. As discussions about race and racism continue to surge around the country, Americans have finally begun listening to black organizers and activists about the state of systemic oppression against people of color.

This kind of prejudice has defined our country, as well as many of the industries that drive innovation. As we’ve been highlighting for weeks, the tech space has long-since needed some development in these areas, whether out in Silicon Valley, or right here at home in the Midwest. 

Many of the icons in the tech industry are doing their part to join in the fight against systemic racism in their own cities. Board members of Minneapolis-based startup group BETA recently announced that if they didn’t meet their own diversity standards, including adding black board members and anti-racism training, they would step down. And Atlanta-based investment group Collab Capital announced it was raising $50 million to fund black-owned startups. 

Though these steps may be small in comparison to the level of prejudice that people of color have faced throughout their careers, it’s inspiring to see folks in our community striving to do better and set examples for others. 

+1 Midwest Unicorn Exit

Add another tally to the number of billion-dollar Midwest tech exits. This week Chicago-based GrubHub was acquired for $7.3B by Just Eat, a Netherlands-based company that established a North American presence through the merger. 

GrubHub IPO’d for an estimated $2B+ back in 2014, and their journey to a billion-dollar acquisition points to a growing trend of big Midwest startup exits. 

Big acquisitions like this have a long track record of injecting momentum, experience, and investable dollars back into the local startup ecosystem. A few notable examples:

  • Denver, CO: SendGrid, acquired by Twillio in 2019 for $3B
  • Boulder, CO: Zayo Group IPO’d for $4.45B
  • Indianapolis, IN: ExactTarget was acquired by Salesforce back in 2015 for $2.5B
  • Atlanta, GA: Airwatch, acquired by VMware in 2014 for $1.17B
  • Columbus, OH: CoverMyMeds, was acquired by Mckesson in 2017 for $1.1B
  • Bethesda, MD: Virtustream, acquired by EMC in 2015 for a reported $1.2 B

While Powderkeg has been sharing these unicorn stories for several years, we look forward to capturing more of these successes and resulting opportunities in future editions of The Spark.   

Calling All Entrepre-NERDS: NASA’s New Challenge

Who hasn’t daydreamed about heading off to the final frontier of space? 

Now that dream may be on its way to becoming a reality, as NASA has announced a new initiative called Entrepreneurs Challenge, which seeks new ideas from creators and startups that could aid space exploration. 

The Entrepreneurs Challenge is kicking off its first round with a search for technology involving machine learning and AI for autonomous space crafts, spectronomy equipment for identifying life detection, and quantum sensors for the measurement of gravitational fields and dark energy (I’m not even going to pretend like I fully understand what all that means).

As we’ve covered in previous issues of The Spark, a lot of this innovation is coming from areas beyond Silicon Valley, such as the Space Coast in East Florida, where we connected with startups and investors last year on tour with Rise of the Rest.

Michael Seablom, NASA’s chief technologist for science said, “We want to be sure we’re not leaving good ideas on the table or missing the contributions some of these potential partners could make to the exciting science missions coming up.”

COVID-19 Puts Mental Health Apps in Spotlight

Nearly half of the adults in the US will experience mental illness in their lifetime, but only 41% of those individuals have received treatment in the past year. In part, this is because mental health has long been overlooked in professional realms where, historically, productivity has been the focus. 

With the arrival of COVID-19, many companies have announced further cutbacks in the mental health services they offer to employees. This has led to a growing crisis when coupled with the stress and pressure of the pandemic. 

Luckily, the tech sector has already taken on the case of third-party mental health. There has been a boom in mental health apps and companies in recent years, with $750M invested in mental health technology solutions in 2019.

Though it may be an uphill battle against mental illness, leave it to the audience-focused minds behind tech products to help provide services to those who desperately need it during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Recent top fundings, acquisitions, and IPOs between the coasts:

Austin, TX

Boise, Idaho

Brookfield, WI

Chicago, IL

Denver, CO

Madison, WI

Minneapolis, MN

Phoenix, AZ

Portland, OR

  • Mid-market private equity firm Endeavour Capital is raising $850 million for its eighth fund, per an SEC filing.

Raleigh-Durham, NC

Richmond, VA

Santa Monica, CA

Tampa Bay, FL


Know someone looking for a new gig? The economy is unpredictable right now, but startups in the middle of the country are still hiring.

You’ll find a few of this week’s Top Powderkeg Picks below:

Companies who are hiring:

Atlanta, GA

  • Digital warehouse network STORD is hiring data analysts, designers, engineers, supply chain experts, marketers, and more.
  • Merchant E is a commerce solution hiring product managers, analysts, and multiple executive roles, among other opportunities.

Charlotte, NC:

  • Atom Power is a power management tech company hiring field support engineers and senior electrical test engineers.

Denver, CO

  • SpotX is a video advertising platform hiring multiple types and levels of engineers and developers across multiple locations.
  • Digital mortgage closing platform Snapdocs is hiring implementation managers, engineers, a director of marketing, product designers, sales staff, and more.

Minneapolis, MN

  • SmartThings is the leading open platform for consumer IoT, hiring software engineers and a VP of Engineering.

Washington, D.C.

  • Inky is an email security company hiring account executives and account managers.

Multiple Locations/Remote:

  • Enterprise risk management company Expanse is hiring in software development, marketing, sales, and more.
  • Online learning platform Udemy is hiring in dozens of roles at locations across the nation and globe.


Get the inside scoop on even more interesting companies, stories, and strategies to help you reach your full potential.

  1.   Don’t let your professional engine die down. Use advice from Ashley Watkins & Ana Lokotkova to make the most of LinkedIn and jump start your career.
  2.   Revisit last week’s issue of The Spark to learn about nationwide salaries in jeopardy and startups hiring near you.
  3.   Trying to fill your summer calendar? Don’t miss our writeup on 2020’s best virtual events and conferences, many of which are free to attend.  
  4.   If you want to learn how to better support and include diverse startups in your local ecosystem, register for this June 23 seminar hosted by Tampa Bay Wave.
  5.   Lack of development opportunities is a key reason for talent loss. Take the professional development digital by sending your emerging leaders to ADVISA’s 6-month workshop.

This blog post was curated by Alexander, Meg, Casey, and myself from the Powderkeg team, and written with the help of our friends at Metonymy Media. These are just some of the amazing stories happening around us every day.

Got 30 seconds? Share some good news with us! The Powderkeg team will share the best stories in an upcoming virtual event, on social, or in a future blog or Livestream.

We’d love to hear from you!