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McClatchy-Tribune  06/17/2014 2:06 PM ET
Tech incubator 1871 expanding this summer [Chicago Tribune :: ]

June 17--Chicago's largest tech innovation hub is about to get 50 percent larger.

In April, the Tribune reported that 1871, a 2-year-old incubator for tech startups, would expand its space from 50,000 square feet to 75,000.

On Monday, the state confirmed it will pledge $2.5 million from the Build Illinois bond fund to retrofit an additional 25,000 square feet on the 12th floor of the Merchandise Mart into workspace for digital entrepreneurs. 1871's goal is to help build businesses to the point of self-sufficiency.

"This expansion shows that our investment in the next generation of Chicago businesses is paying off," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. "The jobs of tomorrow will come from the types of small businesses growing at 1871 today, and this expansion will allow even more entrepreneurs and businesses to locate here, bringing new jobs with them and supporting the city's economic growth."

1871 is a co-working space for tech entrepreneurs who want to build new companies. Benefits include the opportunity to collaborate with other entrepreneurs and venture capital firms who also call 1871 home -- currently about 250 companies. It's name is a nod to the rebuilding that took place in the city in the year 1871 after the Great Chicago Fire.

The hub in the Merchandise Mart aims to attract startups with two to eight employees and is also welcoming alumni back to work and serve as mentors. The incubator has been known to host "hack nights," workshops and other coaching and training relevant to people who are looking to grow their companies. Memberships cost between $150 and $450 per month.

Gov. Pat Quinn said 1871's companies and alumni have created more than 1,000 jobs over the past two years.

"1871 has become a true entrepreneurial hub for our state, and its expansion means more career opportunities for the hardworking residents of Illinois," Quinn said. "We look forward to a strong partnership with 1871 as we continue to grow our startup community and support our innovators."

The expansion also means that more venture capital firms, who pay more for their space, will call 1871 home. CEO of 1871 Howard Tullman said 1871 hopes to grow the number of startups and venture capital firms to 350 or 400 by the end of the year.

Tullman said a construction team should be selected soon, and the rehab would begin by July 1. He said the project should be completed in October.

The space will be dedicated for seven mini-incubators focusing on food, real estate, education, financial services, startup engineering, women-owned tech businesses and something called the Internet of Things, conceived by the belief that everyday objects can be connected to the Internet and send and receive information.

The startup engineering incubator will include a presence from the Startup Institute, which trains people to succeed at startup companies, and professors who run a startup accelerator program at the Georgia Institute of Technology called Flashpoint, among other advisers.

In addition to the latest funding, the state contributed $2.3 million to help launch 1871 a few years ago. Venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker also provided early funding. The incubator also pulled in sponsorships from companies such as CDW, Google and Comcast, among others.

"For the second time now, the state has stepped up and expressed confidence that we can continue to grow, create jobs and focus on these areas," Tullman said. "We're very excited. I think it's the right thing to do, because we really didn't want all of this momentum and all this energy to be limited by 14 different incubators spread out throughout the neighborhood."

ehirst@tribune.com

Follow @EllenJeanHirst Follow @chibreakingbiz

 

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