After seeing a friend at Starbucks earlier this morning (hey Jess!), I took the train to the Merchandise Mart. I've read about the Merchandise Mart in the past and it has quite the history. I'll save that for another time. With Jess' handy directions, I found the Merchandise Mart just fine. Based on my prior knowledge, I knew the building was pretty expansive but when I exited the train station, I was floored. The Merchandise Mart is huge! Bright lights, food chains, Starbucks, home goods store. I tried to focus because the tour would soon start and I was unaware of which floor to go to in order to get to the 1871 office. The elevator was marked accordingly with their floor number (12), which leads me to believe this place is a frequent stop.
I got to the twelfth floor and walked down a looong hall and arrived at a well lit, multicolored and heavily occupied floor space. 1871 is basically a co-working center for startup companies,who must apply to have a membership with 1871. It's sponsored by the Chicago Entrepreneurial Center, which is a non-profit that supports entrepreneurs. Our tour guide showed us around the entire floor. The space is like a playground for entrepreneurs, VCs, angel investors and business folk. Obviously, a lot of work occurs at all hours but the physical space feels and looks fun! 1871 also hosts events like panel discussions, seminars, computer programming classes and social activities. Coding is not a walk in the park, but at least the atmosphere they've designed is conducive to learning and being creative. According to our tour guide, a large number of their members wanted access to coffee. Shocker. So, the center had a local coffee company build a shop within the center. Coffee 24/7, that's pretty cool.
|One of many colorful wall murals|
|An incubator within the 1871 space|
Conveniently enough, four guys on the tour recently were accepted. They have a customer loyalty startup company called YellaRewards. I met Daniel and Adam, who I think are the founders. The word yella means "let's go" in Arabic. Clever. I had mentioned to Daniel that was I visiting business schools in the Midwest and that I took a look at Booth and Kellogg. Coincidentally, he is currently a part-time student at Booth and is enjoying his experience. Best of luck Daniel and Adam!
I was and still am impressed with the collaorative space that is 1871, especially since they have only been in operation since May of 2012. They look fairly full, which is a good sign of the startup/tech community in Chicago. One observation that I was not surprised by was the lack of women and minorities. I saw a handful of women but very few women of color. Though there are programs that target women and girls, the technology sector is still dominated by men. Being at a place like 1871 is encouraging in that there are opportunities to learn how to code. Hopefully, more people, particularly women, will leverage those type of resources and skills.
My time in Chicago is slowly coming to an end. I really like it here, minus the blustery winds. I might be here for business school this time next year. If so, I could see myself spending time at 1871. I could see that and much more.