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Chicagoness Interviews: Gramovox

In conjunction with the Momentum Awards Dinner, our "Chicagoness" Interviews feature 1871 community members describing how living and working in Chicago affects their businesses and daily lives.

Here's what Pavan Bapu, Co-Founder and CEO of  Gramovox has to say about "Chicagoness":

Could you tell us a little bit about how Gramovox got it start?
The story begins about a year and a half ago. I was in Wicker Park, where I saw this antique store and there was an old 1920s gramophone. It had this beautiful form to it that took me back. I bought it, took it home, and restored it. It had this vintage, sonorous, organic sound. There I saw an opportunity to revive the past, to cherish the gramophone and other vintage AV equipment and apply it in a modern context.

Our first product is directly inspired by this experience. It’s a steel gramophone horn made with the same manufacturing techniques as in the 1920s, inspired by the original gramophone. In addition to the aesthetics, we also evolved the technology to make it accessible to people today. That comes in with the Bluetooth. We designed our own proprietary audio electronics, all hidden within the beautiful wood base, which allows you to stream nostalgia by connecting with any Bluetooth-enabled device. It has the same vintage, organic sound of a gramophone. From that, we got our vision statement crystallized: Gramovox reimagines vintage AV equipment into functional, contemporary art. The Bluetooth Gramophone is the first foray into the space, and we’ve got other products in the pipeline.

Why did you decide to start your business in Chicago?

I’m from Chicago – I was born and raised here. There’s this Midwestern vibe, which is such a compelling point of the Chicagoness. People here are very willing to drop what they’re doing and help one another to achieve their goals. It takes a village to raise a baby, and I think it takes a village to raise a startup. That’s been true for us. It took a swarm of individuals coming together, a lot of whom had nothing personally to gain, who wanted to see us succeed and see the vision come to life. It’s something we embody as part of our team, that we give back ourselves.

How has 1871 affected your business?

Being part of 1871 has been amazing. One, we got our fundraising through 1871. I was talking with Tom Giles, the founder of StageBloc, at an 1871-sponsored event, and I had mentioned that we were looking for fundraising. He told me, “the investor that invested in us happens to enjoy hardware startups and I think would love what you guys have.” That translated into us pitching to this investor and ultimately closing the round – all over the course of a week and a half. If it wasn’t for the community of 1871 that fosters those relationships, we wouldn’t have the funding that has allowed us to quickly scale our business.

Two, PR and exposure. 1871 has some of the most influential people walk through its doors. This helps get our word out. We’ve been on NBC and CBS during primetime. All of these media outlet connections have come about from 1871 spreading the word.

Three would be the subsidized rent. One of the biggest challenges for startups is finding an environment they can be in at an affordable rate. 1871 has provided an affordable plan and packaged all those things you have to worry about all together. They provided everything we needed from a workspace, which takes a lot of stress and pressure off ourselves. We can focus our energies on the business.

Fourth, which I’ll reiterate again, is community. It’s such a crucial part of why we love 1871. Being able to interact with other startups gives us insight and also lets us form collaborations. The mentorship has been excellent. We've met people from legal to marketing, from technology to design. All of these meetings have increased our knowledge and skill set in areas we were weaker in maybe 6 months ago. We continue to learn everyday.

Gramovox will be featured at the Momentum Awards After Party. What are you planning to do at the event?

We’re working with Motorola, whose headquarters is right here at the Merchandise Mart. We’re going to have a showroom space together where we’ll be exhibiting technologies that cross-pollinate with one another. You’ll be able to stream nostalgia on the Gramovox through your Moto 360 watch in a really nice vintage-meets-modern experience.

Do you have a favorite music-related fact about Chicago?

Believe it or not, they actually used to sell the gramophone at the Merchandise Mart in the 1930s. The Mart was once the hub for all architectural and industrial design vendors under one roof. It’s interesting that we’re keeping this pastime and selling this product that was once sold here, but giving it a modern twist and making it applicable to people today.


About Gramovox:

Gramovox is a consumer electronics company that reimagines vintage A/V equipment into functional contemporary art. Its debut product is the Gramovox Bluetooth Gramophone. The Gramophone's bold design and vintage sound are inspired by the 1920s radio horn speakers. Its form and function are a marriage of vintage and modern aesthetics—producing a timeless piece that allows you to stream nostalgia.

Topics: Insights