1871 quickly became 'something special' for companies it nurtures and spawns
Frank Muscarello, CEO of MarkITx, is a serial enterepreneur, and said he knew as soon as he heard about 1871 – founded in 2012 by the non-profit organization Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center – that he wanted to be a part of it.
"I just knew this place was going to be something special," Muscarello said Tuesday as 1871 honored 26 companies, including MarklTx, that had outgrown the tech incubator.
Muscarello's MarkITx is an online marketplace for secondary IT equipment. The company boasts on its website that it's "changing the way hardware is bought and sold."
"Idealism you can't take to the bank," Muscarello said. "You have to execute. But if you have the hunger and passion and everything else is laid out for you with connections and contacts, it gives you a much better chance for success. How do I get greater odds for the deck stacked against us? That's what this place represents. The ability to go out and have all the networks come to us and deliver on what we want to do."
In a short time, 1871 has become legendary for the opportunities it has given Chicago startup tech companies, all of which began with a dream.
"You're filled with anxiety," Daniel Wagner, CEO of Civis Analytics, said Tuesday during a ceremony that included public officials. "It's lonely. It's tough. And I think what this place brings to you is a setting that makes that easier. How to build something, that's all that we know how to do. I want to thank you for making that experience a little bit easier."
Meanwhile, officials pointedly cast the success and support for 1871 as an investment in the future business climate of Chicago.
Jim O'Connor, a private equity investor and a founder of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, said 1871 couldn't exist without support and mentorship – and looked to Chicago's new companies to provide help in the future.
"It took a huge dose of Chicago-ness – the special DNA of our city that leads to successful CEOs of our city who give back to the community by donating their time for free," he said. "Successful entrepreneurs who provide thousands of office hours for free. That no-frills, roll-up-your-sleeves attitude to get it done. It means putting humility ahead of ego. This is just the beginning. We want this to replicate over and over and over. We want the next heads of the CEC and 1871 to come from this audience."
Tuesday’s ceremonies included a handoff of leadership as Howard Tullman, who promises a "tough love" approach to 1871's operations, took over as CEO, about a year after outgoing CEO
Kevin Willer announced his planned departure for a venture capital firm.
"It's great to talk about how much money we’ve raised as companies, but it's important to understand the real objective of a startup is to get to the point where you're self-sustaining. These companies have gotten there," Tullman said, gesturing to representatives of the graduating startups behind him.
But he said 1871's organizers hoped the engine would keep driving growth in Illinois.
"We want this to be not limited to Chicago," Tullman said, "but for this to be the place you chose to come to start your business, and for Chicago and Illinois to be the place where you stay to grow your company, start your family."