Startup City: Chicago

The Windy City Blows Up

Building a startup ecosystem is like mixing the perfect martini – a delicate art. Use too much vermouth, or cheap gin, and you’re drinking turpentine. Get it right, and you’re, well, dancing.

If the startup ecosystem requires something like this — abundant universities, a massive homegrown startup, real presence by a tech giant, and attainable workspace — then Chicago’s dancin’.

For starters, U of Chicago, Northwestern, U of Illinois, and Illinois Institute of Technology all sit a few yards apart at co-working space 1871. Art and design powerhouses Columbia College and Art Institute are just across the Loop. And the University of Illinois’ main campus is a few hours south, which clearly has something weird in the water (see left).

Groupon’s insane ascent from idea to IPO put Chicago on the startup map — and even if you’re watching this, it’s hard to deny that their run to 10,000 employees is astounding (not to mention their staff performance at the Lyric Opera).

Google has also set up shop, with a tidy $12.5 billion dollar purchase of Motorola Mobility that will relocate 3,000 employees from the ‘burbs to downtown.

Workspace? There’s shiny new stuff in the form of 1871 and fellow newcomer Catapult, as well as the more established TechNexus. And up the Blue Line towards O’Hare, alongside the music and art scene, startups like Polymathic Media have moved in.

The result is companies like Trunk Club (which is two years old and has 150 employees), Braintree (which is expecting to triple its workforce), The Starter League (a learn-to-code school), a top accelerator (Excelerate Labs), and scores of others.

We’re so keen on it, we’re throwing an Uncubed event on October 4th event. Get tickets here here.

Now go forth (and shake, don’t stir).

Nitty Gritty:

1871: The year of the Chicago fire.

1: Cow that purportedly started said blaze.

Former U of Ill. Students

  • Larry Ellison (Oracle)
  • Marc Andreessen (Netscape, Andreessen Horowitz)
  • Max Levchin (Paypal co-founder)
  • Russel Simmons (Yelp co-founder)
  • Jawad Karim (YouTube co-founder)
  • Sizhao Yang (co-creator of Farmville)