Great post and audio interview by Niala!
Originally posted here: http://www.changinggears.info/2012/01/18/1871-chicago-entrepreneurs-to-open-startup-tech-center/
1871: Chicago Entrepreneurs To Open Startup Tech Center
January 18, 2012 | 3:35 PM | By Niala Boodhoo
After the Great Fire (Public Domain; via Wiki Commons)
CHICAGO – 1871 was the year of the Chicago Fire. For local tech entrepreneurs, they say they like to think of it as the year Chicago rebuilt – and have seized upon it as the name for a new tech center that will open this spring at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.
1871 is the brainchild of local tech entrepreneur Matt Moog (full disclosure: Matt Moog is a board member of Chicago Public Media, parent of our partner station WBEZ), who is also the CEO of Viewpoints Networks and founder of builtinchicago.org. It will be operated by not-for-profit Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, which is run by Kevin Willer.
Willer helped open the Google office in Chicago in 2000 – back then, it was a windowless interior office for two people. It was a “pretty depressing” place to work, Willer told me earlier today.
“It wasn’t vibrant and energetic and the people that weren’t around us weren’t working on similar problems that we had,” he said.
Fast forward to today, and the tech environment in Chicago has changed. Willer and organizers point to stats like the $1.45 billion raised by Chicago start-ups last year (most of that fromGroupon) as proof that there is a vibrant young tech community throughout the city.
I asked Willer if the goal is to create the next Groupon. He said it wasn’t just “Groupon, but the next Google, or the next GrubHub – really creating a place where in the next five years, or ten years, we can look back and say, this is where a lot of great tech companies in Chicago got started.”
It will work sort of like a gym membership for startups. It’s designed for new companies with two to eight employees, and for companies that do or don’t have financing. Members will pay $400 a month for reserved desk space, with lockable cabinets, etc. There are cheaper plans, around $200/month, for shared space. All of this will be in 50,000 square feet that is being built in Merchandise Mart, on the 12th floor, across space Razorfish has just rented out.
It will be run by CEC, and is being funded through support from J.B. Pritzer, the state of Illinois, and a few corporate sponsors: Comcast is providing free ethernet access and Cisco helped with the design of the “smart” work space, a concept they’ve been working on in Europe and will make its American debut in this space. The facility will also include a cafe, auditoriums and classrooms – the idea is to have more than 180 classes on financing, technology, marketing and the like for members and the general public.
At a news briefing today for reporters on the center, Moog and Willer declined to say how much funding has gone into it, although Willer did say the goal is for the tenant payments to make the center eventually “break even” financially.
Willer stressed that this isn’t an incubator. He said the idea is to have a collaborative working space where entrepreneurs can bounce ideas off each other. Venture capital and angel investors will also have a presence at the facility.
“Economic development is about creating new enterprises as well as supporting corporations that are already here,” Willer said, adding he hopes 1871 will become part of the Chicago’s tech “ecosystem”.