1871 aims to be Chicago’s phoenix of the digital community

Channeling the city’s triumphant rebirth after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, local entrepreneurs and business leaders are currently constructing a 50,000 square foot collaborative workspace—an investment in Chicago’s budding tech startup ecosystem—to open this spring at the Merchandise Mart.

When the aptly named 1871 is up and running it will house around two dozen or so tech startups at about 100 reserved and 220 shared desks; 22 conference rooms of various sizes; an accelerator co-working space for intensive development; a modern café /common area; three auditorium-sized classrooms hosting a series of workshops; and offices housing local universities as well as venture capital and angel investors.

“The idea is that all startups will get to talk, learn, interact and share experiences with each other,” said Steven Collens, 1871 project ‘instigator’ and Pritzker Group SVP, while giving a hard-hat tour of the process Saturday.

The not-for-profit community project was wrought from tech community hub, BuiltinChicago.org founder and Viewpoints Networks CEO, Matt Moog. It will be operated by the president and CEO of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC), Kevin Willer. Ideally, it’ll be the perfect mix of startup creativity, civic engagement and spirited entrepreneurial growth.

Of course there has been more interest than space, so an independent committee from the CEC will decide on the first class, if you will, of 1871, Collens said. The ideal candidates will be digital startups of 2-10 people and be chosen based on startup potential, momentum, progress and scalability, he said.

The chosen members will be announced next week. Meanwhile, partnerships have slowly been announced as opening day draws near. Partnerships like Desktime, a software program just for managing co-working spaces.

A major focus of the startup hub will be in the abundance of classes, workshops, lectures and seminars. Hundreds of classes will be provided to empower entrepreneurial members (and many open to the public): taught by leading business-builders, successful entrepreneurs, technologists, and even artists and astrophysicists, Collens says, ranging from the practical to the inspirational.

It’ll be like going off to an intensive camp or college, not just for all the valuable lessons members will learn, but for the communal support, Moog says.

“Community is the binding agent of a successful business ecosystem,” Moog told Doejo in an email. “It is a sense of common purpose that creates a community and helps to propel the ecosystem forward. … We hope that the ethos of building and creating is infused in the community at 1871.”

And the space on the 12th floor of the Merchandise Mart is breathtaking. The views are of Chicago’s bold skyline and bridge-covered Chicago River, framing the historical art deco icon. Collens says they chose Merchandise Mart from about 200 spaces around the city.

“We wanted to be in the center of the business district,” he said. “And make sure that there was an opportunity to build bridges between startups and the established business community.”

Filed in: Startup Community