Thursday, November 20, 2014

1871 teams up with Urban League to increase diversity in tech field

1871 teams up with Urban League to increase diversity in tech field

Mayor Rahm Emanuel joins 1871 CEO Howard Tullman (right) and tech entrepreneurs to announce a commitment to job growth at Chicago's tech hub in April 2014 at the Merchandise Mart. | Al Podgorski/Chicago Sun-Times

Walk through 1871, Chicago’s rock star tech incubator in the downtown Merchandise Mart, and one doesn’t see much color — by way of race, that is.

That has been a steady complaint of Chicago’s minority entrepreneurs.

But serial entrepreneur Howard Tullman, the man who runs the city’s signature startup hub, hopes to change that.

Through innovative partnerships — the latest with the Chicago Urban League announced Wednesday — 1871 is working to identify and support promising African-American and Latino entrepreneurs and to foster interest in technology among African-American and Latino youth.

Under the new partnership with the Urban League, 1871, with financial backing from area corporations, will offer sponsored memberships for African-American entrepreneurs. Memberships currently range from $150 a month for a night and weekend membership to $450 a month for a reserved space, and $300 a month for a shared space. Memberships come with access to vast resources, mentorship and funding.

It announced a similar partnership with the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in August.
“The goal is to make it possible for minority groups to have access to, participate in and benefit from the training programs, and take advantage of the things going on here,” Tullman told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I think that 1871 has been surprisingly successful. Nobody knew it at the outset, but we want to make it successful for the whole city. That’s a different task from making it successful for the people that live within 15 minutes of Merchandise Mart,” he said.

Under the new partnership, the Urban League will help identify technology business owners, designers and developers eligible for the memberships; recruit individuals eligible for scholarships to attend coding classes; identify potential employees to 1871 companies seeking to hire; identify African-American business leaders to potentially serve as 1871 mentors; and connect African-American college student entrepreneurs with 1871 programs.

“The Chicago Urban League is thrilled to partner with 1871 to empower emerging and existing African American entrepreneurs with this innovative opportunity that can help launch, grow and sustain their businesses,” said Andrea Zopp, the league’s president and CEO.

Corporations backing the new initiative include Lenovo and Nokia.

“We value the diversity we have in our own workforce, in this city and around the world, and we’ve seen firsthand how diversity can drive innovation,” said Denise Doyle, senior vice president at HERE, a Nokia company.

“We are committed to building on our already strong culture of inclusion and are proud to work with 1871 and the Chicago Urban League by providing financial support for underrepresented individuals to make a noticeable impact in the Chicago technology community,” said Yolanda Conyers, vice president, global HR operations and chief diversity officer at Lenovo.

Through the partnership with the league, whose president sits on the Chicago Board of Education, 1871 will connect with Chicago Public Schools children through a unique tech program it is currently developing.

That next-generation “tech toolkit” will teach students entrepreneurship and technology development in a fun and interactive way, with platform technologies and free applications students can use to develop sample products and services and build apps that can be put to use immediately, while plugging into a pipeline to careers in high-tech entrepreneurship.

“How do you expose kids to technology who don’t have access to it? How do you help them understand that technology is out there, and that they can have a role in this?” Tullman asks.

“I don’t know that they know that. I don’t know that they know 1871 isn’t just for downtown people or certain people. We need to make technology visible, something that they feel they can learn to do and master,” he added. “I think they know how to use a phone, but I don’t think they know that someone makes the apps that they use to do all sorts of magical things with their phone.”

The nearly three-year-old 1871, which has inspired smaller hubs in places such as Pilsen, Englewood and Bronzeville, is currently supporting Hispanic entrepreneurs through similar sponsored 
memberships, employment recruitment and training and education opportunities for Hispanic students.

Home to about 300 startups, 1871 has graduated about 50 companies that have created about 1,400 jobs, raised about $40 million in startup funding, and has posted aggregate revenues of $22 million to $23 million, according to Tullman.

“And part of our goal in 2015 really has to do with the idea that we want a mix of folks to be able to take advantage,” he said.

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