Thursday, December 18, 2014

FORBES: An Unexpected Source of Innovation: Chicago Tech Center 1871 Expands

An Unexpected Source of Innovation: Chicago Tech Center 1871 Expands
By Vicki Gerson
Innovation can crop up where and how you least expect it. In our series “An Unexpected Source of Innovation,” we will visit some of America’s little-known hubs of technological creativity!
Chicago is well known for being the heartland of manufacturing … but a center for technological innovation? Not so much so, many people would assume. However, as with many assumptions, nothing could be farther from the truth! In fact, according to a study conducted by the Illinois Innovation Council, Illinois ranks second in the nation (after California) in the number of high-tech startups.
One of the catalysts for innovation in the city is Chicago’s leading tech startup center, named 1871 after the famous Chicago fire. 1871 is positioned to cater to the growing tech and entrepreneurial community in the Chicagoland area where members will be able to take advantage of mentorship programs, educational sessions and meeting rooms.
Originally funded by a $2.3 million grant from the State of Illinois and private sponsorships, it’s located in the Merchandise Mart with the purpose of increasing innovation and job growth in the region. Venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker provided early funding for 1871, while corporate sponsors such as CDW, Google and Comcast also supported it. The goal was to go beyond building the next Groupon or next Google, but to offer a place where people would be able to look back and say that Chicago’s 1871 was the place where great tech companies got started.

Chicago is a world famous city, but it is not necessarily known as an innovation hub. It may be time to change that perception.

Known as “Chicago’s Entrepreneurial Hub For Digital Startups,” the center opened its doors on May 2, 2012 with 50,000-square-feet of space on the 12th floor of the Merchandise Mart. The center is being run by the non-profit Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, which received more than 300 applications for space. At first, the center housed up to 400 individuals and roughly 100 startups. One of the main objectives of the center is to help businesses build themselves up to the point of self-sufficiency.
The Big Picture

Technology affects all areas of the economy in every state, from real estate to education to finance to food. 1871′s companies are creating innovative tech products and services that are changing the way traditional industries operate.
New businesses are also critical creators of jobs and economic growth. 1871′s graduates have raised more than $40 million and created more than 1400 jobs. As the center of the entrepreneurial and tech communities in Chicago, 1871′s ultimate goal is to support the companies that are fostering economic growth throughout Chicago and Illinois.
Because most startups have very little cash or are unable to get bank loans, the center provides entrepreneurs with office space. Comcast’s investment in 1871 gives tenants free access to a high-speed Metro Ethernet Dedicated Internet Service, TV service in the common areas, and phone service.
With $2.5 million additional money from Governor Pat Quinn this year, 1871 was able to expand itself by 50 percent, adding 25,000 square-feet to accommodate additional entrepreneurs who wanted to become members. With the new space, 1871 is currently home to more than 300 companies where entrepreneurs can become a collaborative community.
A Glance at Some of the Innovative Businesses Here
1871 has incredible diversity among its startups:
·         Quick2LAUNCH can, in less than 48-hours, help corporations develop visually compelling presentations and templates for PowerPoint. It also has a graphic design service for presentations.
·         Youtopia is an education gamification platform (toolkit) that uses points, badges and leaderboards to make what students are already learning – from elementary through college – addictive and fun. Its platform unlocks new pathways to learning.
·         Georama helps travelers discover vacations based upon their interests. Travelers can plan, book and share trips.
·         WeDeliver is a same-day, on-demand delivery service using a web-based platform.
As Daniela Bolzmann, co-founder and CMO of WeDeliver says: “This is a place where every startup can call home. For me, 1871 is home. It’s where I met my cofounder, and it’s where we work for months at a time. Many times we spent more hours at 1871 than we did at our own homes. It’s a place where we’ve connected with our peers, met mentors, built our company and even trained our fleet of delivery specialists. The culture at 1871 is inspirational – the passion and fury that’s going on in the hallways is contagious.” Chicago is certainly hoping that this inspiration and passion continues to spread!
Vicki Gerson is an award-winning print and on-line writer for consumer, trade and custom publications who focuses on company profiles, business features and business blogs.

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