Chicago tech sector — and 1871 hub — out to expand
Digital center seeks more space; 24 firms aim to boost staff
Entrance to 1871 inside Chicago's Merchandise Mart. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
By Ellen Jean Hirst, Tribune reporter
April 2, 2014
Chicago's leading tech startup center is in talks to expand its space at the Merchandise Mart by 50 percent, adding 25,000 square feet in order to accommodate more young digital companies, specialized incubators and offices for out-of-town venture capitalists, top officials said Tuesday.
Howard Tullman, CEO for 1871, said the 2-year-old incubator for tech startups, which now provides 50,000 square feet of work space for digital entrepreneurs, has engaged the Merchandise Mart, the city and the state about a possible expansion, though adding that "it's not a done deal."
"The original plans for 1871 contemplated that there would be some adjacent expansion space," Tullman said.
The tech center's main objective is to help businesses build to a point of self-sufficiency. Venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker provided early funding for 1871, which also got a $2.3 million grant from the state. The space also pulled in corporate sponsorships from CDW, Google and Comcast, among others. Monthly memberships range from $150 to $450.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at a news conference Tuesday at 1871 that Chicago's tech industry has grown to about 40,000 tech workers. He wants to double that number to 80,000 in the next decade. Joined by representatives from 24 companies, Emanuel said they had committed to hiring a total of more than 400 people in the next two years.
"They're across a waterfront of industries and sectors," Emanuel said of the companies. "But nobody just hires to that cap. … Some will exceed it, some may not. But I think overall this is a conservative number just for these companies alone."
Kal Patel joined two of his tech entrepreneur companions almost two years ago to create AdYapper, which tracks how digital advertisements perform.
"The Krafts of the world are afraid to spend more on digital (advertising), because they don't get the transparency" of how well the ads perform, Patel said. "You might serve 100 million ads, but we'll tell you: 'Only 30 million were viewable and it reached only 5 million people. And here are the best sets of them.'"
The company has eight employees. But Patel said the company expects to hire 20 to 30 more in the next two years.
Asif Khan's startup — health care integrative tech company Caremerge — bridges the gap between senior patients, doctors and their families by integrating mobile and Web technologies. Khan said his company has committed to hiring 10 to 20 employees over the next two years.
The other companies that will commit to hire at least 10 new employees in the next two years are: Options Away, Modest, Risk I/O, Centro, Georama, SpotHero, Food Genius, Eli's Cheesecake, Simple Relevance, MarkITx, Whittl, Philo Broadcasting, Occasion, Rocketmiles, Human Practice, AKTA, Cleversafe, CharlieHQ, ContextMedia, 640 Labs, ConversePoint and Newport Avenue.
"May 2012, when we first got selected (by 1871), we were only two people. Wires were hanging, furniture was moving in. It was just fantastic chaos. Fast-forward two years, we are now 22 employees; we are in 130 senior living facilities across the United States," Khan said. "Many companies like us are ... really challenging, innovating and disrupting the status quo across the nation, right from here."