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The Evolution of 1871 and Chicago’s Tech Startup Scene

There is no question: the technology start-up scene in Chicago has changed. Today, we have more talent and resources. Our tech incubator, 1871, has been a major driver of this evolution. It is a billboard that hangs over Chicago promoting tech entrepreneurship. On a personal level, 1871 has helped me find my true calling and grow my business. I look forward to watching it mature.

I have been a member of 1871 since it opened, in 2012. The week I joined, I quit my full time job as a data analyst, researcher, and coder. It wasn't until I learned about Ron May’s tech newsletter, Built in Chicago, and the idea of 1871 that I thought of developing my own tech business—my first idea was a pricing platform for small freight businesses.

The freight transportation software made money; my code worked. But quickly I found that my passion was not in the trucking industry. Instead, I realized that I could use my tech skills to help fellow entrepreneurs succeed, plan, build, and launch their products. And as I launched this new venture, I’ve seen it develop right alongside 1871’s own growth and changes. Here are the biggest changes I’ve seen through 1871’s evolution:

1) Today, 1871 is no longer a homogenous warehouse. I used to work with Katie Lettie, jack of all trades, geographer, writer, and a business analyst. During her first week working with me, she sat down and asked me where all the other women were. Today 1871 is diverse, and actively recruiting even greater numbers of female and minority entrepreneurs. Efforts to recruit talent with the skills needed to help businesses launch have also paid off -- there are many more developers and designers among us. I’m starting to notice the trend in the other tech centers around the city as well.

2) The entrepreneurs around 1871 also seem to have better domain expertise as 1871 grows and finds its place in the business ecosystem. One of the best examples of this domain expertise is Firelily, a startup that I work closely with. Firelily provides a crowd-funding platform for disaster recovery. Based out of 1871 and the Civic Accelerator, Firelily is co-founded by Tamara Habib and Paul Lewis. Tamara is a former disaster recovery consultant, Paul is Hurricane Katrina survivor – who better to design a solution to a problem than the people who have lived and studied it? Less and less am I finding myself being pitched inadequate solutions to non-existent problems. How can you know you’re disrupting an industry if you don’t have experience with the issue at hand? There is a reason why Tamara and Paul are able to attract partnerships with industry giants, talent, and funding partners. People trust their judgment.

3) More and more, founders are educated about starting a business. I work with VestedWorld, an 1871 and Chicago Innovation Exchange startup that connects investors with opportunities in emerging markets. The founder, Euler Bropleh, works with a team of amazing advisors. He was able to surround himself with people who helped him push his idea into a working concept and a business within months. Knowing to build a support network for a company seems trivial, yet just a few years ago it was a rare occurrence in this exact same space.

Just a few years ago Chicago didn't have much to offer to new tech entrepreneurs. In fact no one was talking about the Chicago tech scene. Then 1871 opened its doors.

Today we're actually on a map. We have progressed as a community.

There is still a lot more work to be done. Jeff Carter of Hyde Park Angels devotes some of his time to writing about the need for capital in the Midwest. In order to get that capital, the world has to know that we have something to offer. 1871's PR machine, image, and growth will be key to doing that. The events, the tours, the opportunities to offer office hours, workshops, and successful graduates of the incubator will educate investors about opportunities in Chicago and the rest of Midwest. All these factors combined will drive more talent, more money, and more successful ventures.


About the Author

Robert Haidari, Founder of Hot Emu

Robert Haidari is a Chicago-area serial entrepreneur with extensive software development and technology experience as well as a strong interest in global affairs.

Most recently, Robert founded Hot Emu a part of Ingens Ventures LLC, a consulting company that helps start-ups and small- to medium-sized businesses maximize growth and efficiency with new software and data analytics.

Hot Emu grew organically from of Robert’s professional experiences and interests. Though currently immersed in the Chicago start-up and tech consulting scene, he originally worked as a data analyst and forecaster at Loop Capital Markets, an investment bank. After he left investment banking, Robert founded a technology start-up that predicted pricing for the transportation industry.

Topics: Insights