How 1871 Has Changed Chicago's Startup World One Year Later

There was a time when it seemed like Groupon and daily deals were the future of Chicago's startup world. That has changed radically, certainly within the last year.

As Groupon’s star has been waning, the notion of co-working has been waxing. Look no further than the Merchandise Mart’s 1871 for proof. Frequently billed as a “digital startup hub,” the place, which opened in May 2012, in some senses is nothing more than a space. It facilitates the meeting of minds and companies and offers mentorships, internships and lots of other services that are clearly paying off for the community.

In a press conference Friday, 1871 CEO Kevin Willer said he intends to have its occupants offer even more office hours, or designated 30-minute sessions where experts and executives meet with entrepreneurs and offer advice. Roughly 125 people held office hours during 1871’s first year (including Inc. Well contributor Sonal Mane, Microsoft’s entrepreneurial evangelist), with more than 200 sessions a month.

Willer also stated an intention to go after national venture capital firms to visit 1871. It seems there will be an increased emphasis on Chicago and 1871 both being a “hub” in many senses: Companies should come here from all over, and companies should invest here from all over.

Based on figures released by 1871 Friday in honor of the co-working space’s one-year anniversary, nearly $30 million in capital has been infused into the companies working there, which in turn are adding nearly $13 million in revenue to the city’s economy. Eight-hundred jobs have been created, and a projected 1,342 hires are expected to take place in the coming year.

The city, for its part, has been a huge booster for 1871: Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn have been vocal supporters for the 50,000-square foot co-working space.

The numbers around 1871, as it were, are growing on many, many fronts. 

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City and an adjunct professor in DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media. (He also co-runs a blog behind the DePaul class, DIY Game Dev.) He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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