Exploring the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center

A KIN Innovation Communities Case Study

Exploring the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial CenterThe Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC) is a non-profit organization focused on promoting and growing the startup community in Chicago. The CEC works with high-potential entrepreneurs and offers them business advisory services and educational programming; organizes events that facilitate relationship development and networking; and in 2012 will launch a physical center and co-working space for startups known as 1871. While it identifies and seeks to serve promising entrepreneur clients, the CEC also partners and works with large corporations and service firms, the investor community, as well as the civic organizations, non-profits and academic institutions.

Among its public events, the CEC hosts the Momentum Awards, an annual dinner launched in 2008 to honor early-stage growth entrepreneurs who have demonstrated success and who have businesses in similar industry verticals to CEC’s existing constituency, including alternative energy, consumer products and services, information technology, financial services and healthcare. In December 2011, the CEC also introduced Startup Forecast, a half-day conference that brings prominent entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and other speakers to address trends and forecasts for Chicago-based startups for the following year.

Exploring the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial CenterThe CEC also organizes informal monthly dinners for small groups of high-potential entrepreneurs, to share ideas and build relationships. CEC carefully curates a group of early-stage entrepreneurs who have complementary services of skillsets or may benefit from partnerships. Held in the private room of a local restaurant, and not publicized, these dinners are meant to generate new ideas, share challenges and opportunities, and to promote activities among the selected companies. The CEC does not permit outside investors, service providers or sponsors to partake in these dinners, in order to facilitate more open sharing and networking.

Since 2003, the CEC has helped client entrepreneurs secure $268.5 million in revenue, raise $160 million in financing, and create or retain 6,350 jobs.  To build on this success, the CEC just established 1871 in May, a 50,000 square-foot startup incubation center located in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. The center will eventually host 100 dedicated co-working seats for early-stage companies on flexible lease terms. And there will be 200 shared co-working seats throughout the center.

Exploring the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center

The center will also house classrooms to help startup with technical training (e.g. coding, programming), design, marketing, operations, financing, and legal.  It intends to foster a model through which companies that have graduated from 1871 come back to lead and teach classes to newer startups that are renting space in the center.

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series of case studies on Innovation Communities being created by the Kellogg Innovation Network here at Innovation Excellence. They would sincerely appreciate it if you would contact them if you know about Innovation Communities that they should consider including in their database.  To participate in KIN’s research, please fill out their data form and they will contact you!
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Exploring the Cardiff University Innovation NetworkMike Lippitz is a Research Fellow with the Center for Research in Technology and Innovation at the Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Illinois, a Senior Policy Analyst with the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington, DC, and a Principal at Clareo Partners LLC.  Prior positions include Special Assistant for Strategic Technology Planning in the Office of Director for Defense Research and Engineering, US Department of Defense and product line manager at Hewlett-Packard Company.

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