Took a tour of 1871 at the Merchandise Mart of Chicago today. It looks like pretty cool space. They destroyed the inside and are now rebuilding. It’s raw space right now. I don’t know how long it will take them to build it out.
It will have all the accoutrements companies will need to start up. Great wifi. ATT is running extra cell phone capability. The thing is, we can build all the spaces we want. Until we have enough people with good ideas, and more importantly the skill to execute them we won’t have the start up ecosystem that exists in other places.
The other nice thing is that there were probably 30-40 people on my tour. A very cold Saturday. That shows there is interest. There is a spark in Chicago right now. Kindling. There is heat, smoke. If we manage the small fire correctly we can build a big bonfire.
It can’t be done alone. It takes a market place of ideas and people all acting in their own self interest to build a huge self sustaining ecosystem. Coase and the Chicago boys were correct when they began writing about these things years ago.
There are some good things happening in Chicago. Taken separately, they don’t mean much. As I tell people the pond for start ups in Chicago isn’t very deep, and it’s not very large yet either. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to grow. These things can grow rapidly if you commit to them.
If you want to see a start up community grow in the midwest, what can you as an individual do?
1. If you have the money, but don’t have the time-contact me. I’ll put you in touch with some resources.
2. If you work for a company, look at the various start ups in the midwest and become a customer. See if your company can use their services. Kohler just became a customer of UICO. That’s great! Follow their example. Why the newspapers in Chicago like the Chicago Tribune, Sun Times and Crain’s aren’t using Ycharts on the web for stock quotes is beyond me. Some people talk a good game, others play it.
3. If you see an interesting start up, use your network to make introductions for them. Many times, a warm introduction is all that’s needed to get something started. A company I am invested in, Samurai , introduces start ups to the angel group all the time. It works both ways.
4. Don’t be a spectator. Get involved. This isn’t a centrally planned private enterprise. Everyone doing their own thing makes the whole a lot greater.
5. If you are an elder person and don’t have the appetite to invest in, or try to run a company, be a mentor. Your experience can help them avoid mistakes. Even if you didn’t run a web start up and you ran a manufacturing firm or a service firm, you know a lot about the finer points of running a business that a lot of founders don’t. Help educate them.
I read an article today in the NY Times about data. Data is huge. The city of Chicago is opening up its data for entrepreneurs to mine and create companies out of. If you are a big company with a lot of obscure data, figure out how to let entrepreneurs into it with out compromising your business. The company that does this might create a very strong ecosystem around itself that creates another barrier to entry. Think of it as a cheap way of investing in your own business.
There are plenty of ways to support the efforts of 1871, even if you never set foot in the space. All you have to do is start creatively thinking about them. Then motivate yourself to do it.