News broke today that sent a jolt throughout the Midwest startup community: A massive new center is set to open early next year in Chicago that will house myriad young companies. And perhaps crucially, it’s backed by J.B. Pritzker, an individual worth over $1 billion, providing it with a firm financial footing.
Pritzker is not alone in the venture, and is joined by three other founders: Matt Moog (Built in Chicago), Troy Henikoff (Excelerate Labs), and Kevin Willer (Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center). One individual who is well-known in the Chicago technology community described the founding team of the project as “all the usual suspects.”
The center itself will be massive, around 50,000 square feet when it opens in the first months of 2012. Interestingly, the entire operation is not-for-profit. It will also not, as incubators do, take equity in the companies that populate its offices and desks. Instead, it will charge fees to its occupants, making it very much a coworking location, and not an investor of any stripe.
The projects of two of the founders, Excelerate Labs and the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, will likely move into the center when it opens. The space itself has yet to be rented, but the lease should be signed within the next two months.
Chicago has a somewhat troubled history with this sort of project, oddly. Previously in the city there was a much vaunted 18,000 square foot venue called the Syncubator which had similar goals, if a slightly more investment oriented focus. It eventually collapsed under its own weight when its founder stopped paying the rent and whose fund of money ended up being little more than mirage. It was a rather public failing.
Sue Khim, of Chicag0-based AllTuition, had this to say on the endeavour: “Nurturing winning startups is hard. What has been hard for people in Chicago to realize is that a lot of people who like to work on startups also like to be part of something cool. It will probably take a few tries to get it right but I do think we’ll get there.”
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