Bosch opens a co-working space in 1871
JOHN PLETZ ON TECH
Looking for an edge in the Internet of Things race, German industrial giant Robert Bosch wants to hang out with the cool kids.
The company is starting in Chicago with a new 19,000-square-foot co-working space in the Merchandise Mart called the Connectory that will house startups and some employees. The facility, on the fifth floor of the Mart, is jointly operated by Bosch and 1871. They're also partnering with local universities, including the School of the Art Institute and Northwestern University, to help mentor entrepreneurs and tackle new ideas and old challenges.
"It will focus on co-creation with startup, university and corporate partners," says Dennis Boecker, head of global IT innovation for Bosch, who is here, where it employs nearly 2,000 people in the city and suburbs. "There will be corporate projects, educational experiences and an open environment. We have several startups at 1871 that we're in discussion with already."
Some startups, such as IoT-security company Xaptum, an existing 1871 tenant, will move to the space. Bosch will offer training on IoT equipment such as sensors, as well as prototyping capability with 3-D printers.
The Connectory is the latest expansion for 1871, a hub for tech startups that celebrates its fifth anniversary tonight. Bosch is one of about 200 companies in a wide range of industries have partnered with 1871, which has become an anchor for the city's growing tech economy.
Bosch may roll out Connectorys to other cities, depending on how well this prototype works. Like a lot of big, longstanding companies—Bosch is 130 years old and has nearly 400,000 employees—it sees startup partnerships as a way to stay ahead of new technologies. "We want to work with startups, have our corporate projects there and foster an entrepreneurial mindset," Boecker says.
The concept grew out of Bosch's work with co-working spaces, incubators and startup accelerators over the past several years, including 1871 and Plug and Play in Palo Alto, Calif.
Bosch knows IoT—the idea that all sorts of devices, from appliances to cars, produce data that can be uploaded, monitored and analyzed—is already transforming the world. Five million devices are connected to Bosch's IoT cloud today. The company has long been a supplier of sensors to the automotive industry, and its products are found in cell phones. The Connectory is part of a companywide strategy called 3-S: sensors, software and services. "It's affecting all our business units," Boecker says. "Our target is, by 2020, that all our electronic products will be web-enabled and connected."
CHICAGO AS IOT HUB
Although it's based in Stuttgart, Germany, and its U.S. headquarters are outside Detroit, Bosch has a major presence in Chicago, employing more than 1,800 people across four locations: a power tools unit in Mt. Prospect; an automotive after-market division in Broadview; a Rexroth industrial drives and controllers operation in Hoffman Estates; and a software innovation group in the Loop. It's about to open a showroom for home appliances on the first floor of the Merchandise Mart, too.
Bosch's move comes as Chicago angles to become a bigger player in IoT, which could be a $450 billion market by 2020, according to consulting firm Bain.
Bosch is a potential anchor, alongside companies such as Here, a digital-mapping software company; Zebra Technologies, which makes bar-code and RFID equipment; and startups such as Uptake Technologies. Other key players include insurers such as Allstate, which is doubling its 400-employee innovation center in the Mart. The Illinois Technology Association launched an IoT collaboration project two years ago.
"Just like five years ago, when mobility and digital were core competencies, IoT is next," says 1871 CEO Howard Tullman. "There isn't going to be a more powerful tech play than IoT in the next few years. There won't be anything that won't be connected. We just can't be behind in IoT."
J.B. Pritzker, a venture capitalist who was the driving force behind 1871's launch in 2012 and now is running for governor, says the incubator has grown into a much bigger deals than its founders had hoped. Since Tullman became CEO in late 2013, it has expanded from 50,000 square feet of space and 225 companies to 150,000 square feet and 500 companies. "It's the Chicago entrepreneurs who have transformed the tech community in the past five years," Pritzker says.
But 1871 itself plays a starring role. "The momentum of 1871 is still there," he says. "It evolves as it needs to, into new areas like IoT. It's something Chicago should be really proud of."