Chicago’s 1871 Tech Incubator, a Model for Innovation

Chicago hasn’t been traditionally known for innovation. However, in the last 5 years, Chicago has seen a renaissance in innovation and entrepreneurship. Last year alone, 155 startups received $1.6 billion in funding in funding and 34 companies had successful exits totaling over $7 B.

The centerpiece of Chicago’s renaissance is their 1871 Entrepreneurial Hub.  On the surface, 1871 is a massive co-working facility that houses 250 startups. However, it’s more than a co-working space; it has become a highly collaborative ecosystem that fuels innovation and entrepreneurship. 

On site are VCs, mentors, and local university representatives. With all these players in one facility, there’s amazing ways to collaborate. A startup can quickly call on an on-site mentor for help and get guidance from one of the eight on-site venture funds.

Need an intern? One of the local university representatives will be able to help. There’s also a community that has developed where the startups will help each other and provide support. In addition, over 1000 events that range from workshops, meetups, and hack nights are held annually. 

“There is a lot of value that we create for our companies that don’t have anything to do with our physical facilities; including mentoring, education programs, networking, and financing resources,” states 1871 CEO, Howard Tullman.

The efforts to create 1871 began with J.B Pritzker. He forged a partnership between the public and private sector and was able to get the State of Illinois to provide $2.5 M to fund the construction. The results have been amazing. 

To date, 80 companies have graduated from 1871 and have created 2,500 jobs in the Chicago area. The incubator gets its name from the Great Chicago Fire in 1871; and just like the 1871 fire, the incubator is the spark for a new re-birth of Chicago and has become a model of innovation.