Just call Sam Kennedy the startup whisperer. He spent four years in a dual role at the venture firm Guild Capital and running a national tech conference, Techweek. Working with early-stage tech companies from around the world in both gigs helped him recognize patterns and apply them to help run their businesses more efficiently.
After connecting with JLL brokers at tech events around the city, Sam joined the team as Vice President and Tech Practice Group Lead to elevate the way JLL interfaces with startups in the Chicago market and beyond. “At a time when I was thinking about how I might harness my network to try something new, JLL gave me the best of both worlds. The support of a Fortune 500 real estate company with the opportunity to start an entrepreneurial project,” Sam says. Let’s learn more.
Typical day: I’m always on my feet, getting to know landlords and leasing agents around the city and catching up with entrepreneurs and tech startups. It’s my job to inform JLL’s service lines on which companies are growing. It’s about changing our internal framework and modernizing the way JLL pursues the new generation of companies out there. While that might mean less cold calling, the business is still very relationship-based with authentic connections being made online and in-person. Data is also more widely available than ever, which makes us differentiate by thinking through the personality of a company and how they can interpret existing data to make strategic decisions.
The 411 on JLL’s Tech Practice Group: We harness JLL’s experience working with large clients to serve startups and growth-stage companies. We use the vast market data we have accumulated to eliminate uncertainty in the office search. We understand that flexibility, value, culture, connectivity and productivity are important to tech companies. Our team focuses on those five areas to deliver an ideal workplace.
Getting hooked on CRE: I was so fired up to learn about how much innovation is taking place within JLL. We’re on the vanguard of our changing industry and have some fantastic projects going on behind the scenes. I’m intellectually curious and real estate is a great indicator of the overall health of the economy. It’s almost journalistic, being able to speak to the strength of the market using the real estate information you’ve gathered. In addition to collaborating with a team of tech experts in Austin, Menlo Park and DC, one of my favorite JLL moments has been working with former colleagues (and friends) at Techweek on some upgraded office space for its fast-growing team.
Top Chicago tech trends: Small leases, both subleases and direct, are staying on the market longer because there are more options now for small companies. That’s due to new construction around the city as well as an increasing number of coworking spaces. We’ve also heard a lot said about Chicago’s tech climate, which tends to produce companies that solve practical problems. GrubHub gets food right to your door, Groupon gets coupons right to your inbox, etc. Our investors are more conservative than those on the coasts and look for a healthy balance sheet more than a pie-in-the-sky idea. While that has produced a solid startup culture, that might be holding us back from developing our own moonshot companies like Facebook and Google.
Hometown: Cumberland, Maine, known for its rocky beaches on the coast of Casco Bay.
School: Colby College in central Maine. I majored in English and am proud to say I speak it fluently.
First job: On a maintenance crew mowing lawns in my hometown.
Job in another life: Coaching the Boston Bruins.
Hobbies: Sports. I love to ski. I also spend as much time as I can keeping up with my friends and family, most of whom don’t live in Chicago.
Habits: I try and work out every morning before work. I also do a flashcard vocabulary game called Magoosh during my daily commute – it’s addicting.
On my Spotify playlist: Merle Haggard, he was my great uncle. My favorites are “Okie From Muskogee” and “Beer Can Hill.” My mom’s first job was working for Merle when he was hitting it big in the ‘70s as his secretary and tour manager, planning his travel and communicating with record labels. Merle had a concert back in Maine and I saw him perform again at Chicago’s Congress Theater in 2011. He was kind enough to put aside tickets for me and my buddy and we had a great time on the tour bus afterwards.
On my bookshelf: William Faulkner if I’m looking to lose myself in a book or Stephen King, another twisted Mainer like me.
On my DVR: “Happy Gilmore” and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
On my plate: Steak at Erie Café. I also just moved across the street from Coalfire Pizza and am an all-too-frequent visitor.
Dream dinner party: Tom Brady and Gisele. I’m willing to accommodate all of their eating restrictions and drink green juice.
Bucket list: Travel in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. I’m never been and both places are mysterious to me.
Nobody knows: I broke my hand twice in my first year at JLL. I’m a lot better at being a lefty now. The first time was from playing hockey and the second time was dancing at a wedding. My favorite Saves The Day song from high school came on and I accidentally fist-pumped a nearby table.