News and Insights

Chicago: Startup City

Thalia Kalodimos, Sr. Writer
November 15, 2013

No matter how cold the wind blows, Chicago is hotter than ever creatively. That’s why Grady Campbellhas not only planted roots here–we’re growing. And we’re in good company.

Google is expanding its Chicago office to the 200,00 square-foot Fulton Market Building (now under construction in the West Loop.) The company says it wasn’t a tough call, but a natural move, considering the fertile foundation it found in the heart of the Midwest. As Google puts it, “Birthplace of Chicago blues and house music, home to the world’s first skyscraper and controlled nuclear reaction (mad props to Enrico Fermi), our city has a history of creativity and innovation. At Google Chicago, we do our very best to keep the tradition alive.”

And as Google goes…so does a ripple effect.

Google is an unbelievable engine. Wherever they go gets bigger.Bob Chodos, principal, Colliers International

Chicago’s Merchandise Mart is the new home of 1871, a creative think tank, “tech incubator,” and co-working center for digital creation. The 50,000-square-foot facility provides Chicago startups with affordable workspace and access to mentors, programming, educational resources, potential investors and a community of like-minded entrepreneurs. The number name recollects the great Chicago Fire, one of the most devastating events of the 19th century. It killed hundreds and destroyed much of the city in just two days. Yet it kindled a city with stronger spirit of perseverance and purpose.

Today's Chicago tech entrepreneurs are pragmatic and focused on customers, revenue and profits. That's not going unnoticed by investors. J.B.Pritzker, who runs New World Ventures and chairs Mayor Rahm Emmanuel's innovation and technology group, Chicago Next, says “for the first time, Silicon Valley venture capitalists are paying attention to Chicago companies.”

Chicago is an entrepreneurial phoenix that’s, pardon the pun, kicking ash.

Chicago’s economy is built on its diversity, and the broad shoulders of ingenuity. “That allows us to be a world leader in many different areas all at once,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a recent speech at 1871. In 2002, only 11 digital startups launched in Chicago. In 2012, 367 startups launched—that is one new startup every 24 hours.

The Huffington Post admits Chicago has been “stung by startups,” in the past, losing the founders of Netscape, PayPal, Yelp, and YouTube (all University of Illinois alumni) to Silicon Valley. But “in 2013, Chicago is where the money is staying…The missing link has always been venture capital, says Mayor Emanuel. We have reversed that direction and today, money is chasing companies here to the Third Coast.”

Chicago tech companies raised more than $265 million in the third quarter of this year and J.B. Pritzker “Godfather to Chicago startups” invested $300 million in 104 Chicago startups (including 1871.) Famous Chicago writer, Nelson Alger,” wrote: “Big-shot town, small-shot town, jet-propelled town—by old-world hands with new world tools, built into a place whose heartbeat carries farther than its shout.”

In 2014, Chicago has plenty to shout about.

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