It’s been a busy couple of years for Brett Goldstein and David Spielfogel.
It started when Goldstein, former Chicago chief data officer who had worked with the Chicago Police Department on predictive policing, and Spielfogel, who had served as an adviser to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, decided to start their own investment firm called Ekistic Ventures.
In short order, they brought on board former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, venture capitalist and technology guide publisher Tim O’Reilly, former New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram and Michael Sacks, CEO of the asset management company GCM/Grosvenor.
“We’re the only VC in the country that brings together regulatory, strategic and data science experience to help very early stage tech companies,” Spielfogel said.
The group’s experience leans toward government, and its investments skew that way too. Since Ekistic launched in September 2016, it’s made seven outside investments ranging from companies that use AI to detect problems in roadways to startups using algorithms to find ways building managers can save energy.
Basically they’re turning data-focused technology toward addressing the problems of the modern city.
They’ve also started one company in-house, CivicScape: The only predictive policing firm to publish its code online. The move has earned praise from civil rights advocates concerned about the secrecy of algorithms that can send people to jail.
“I think the dialog nationally is moving toward greater transparency in algorithms across the board,” said Spielfogel.
The idea of spinning up companies within an investment firm is unique, and so is the mix of people involved. But there’s another way Ekistic distinguishes itself from other investors: It is very hands-on. Goldstein in particular has spent quite a bit of time in the weeds of technology — he was an early employee at OpenTable — and Ekistic spends a lot of time working closely with companies to develop their products.
“What is important to me is I wanted to be very hands-on in the technology. I didn’t just want to be on the investment side, I wanted to focus on creating [intellectual property],” Goldstein said. “So I have the great job of being able to work in the field.”