1871’s Second Annual AI Innovation Lab Built with Why of AI Brings Together Major Players to Unlock the Full Potential of Artificial Intelligence to Transform Industries.


J Blaszczykiewicz

Sr. Director of Marketing



Chicago, February 6, 2024 — 1871, global innovation hub launches its second annual AI Innovation Lab, a 4-month experience built to uniquely connect mature startups and corporates in artificial intelligence, starting April 2024. We’re excited to have Why of AI, an industry leader helping organizations design customized AI strategies, as a returning partner for this year’s AI lab and Why of AI’s CEO and NU Kellogg MBAi Professor, Alex Castrounis, as the Lab’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR). Other supporters this year include Microsoft, Discover, and World Business Chicago. Applications are now open until March 4, 2024. 

The AI Innovation Lab unites growth and late-stage startups with corporate partners, investors, and AI operators to collaborate on tackling critical challenges and breaking ground on solutions for future transformational use of artificial intelligence across industries. This spring, 1871’s InsurTech Innovation Lab will run in parallel with the AI Innovation Lab. 

“AI is not just buzz. It’s revolutionizing industries, outcomes, and productivity for organizations and people worldwide. Trustworthy AI has massive potential to benefit humanity and our planet if used responsibly,” said Alex Castrounis, CEO of Why of AI. “That’s why launching our second AI Innovation Lab is so thrilling. I can’t wait to see how our new cohort’s AI-focused business leaders and solutions are solving real-world problems and making the world a better place.”

“AI is transforming problem-solving and innovation, rapidly changing team dynamics and product development in every industry, companies small to big,” said Betsy Ziegler, CEO of 1871. “More than a tool, AI marks a significant shift, empowering those who embrace it with a super-powered asset. Our AI Innovation Lab ensures you’re not just adapting but leading in this new technological era.”


AI Innovation Lab 2024 Highlights

The AI Innovation Lab will operate from 04.01.24 to 06.29.24, focusing on several areas for cohort members to explore, identify, and collaborate to solve real-world problems and innovate with AI and machine learning tech. Startups serving domains across the 2024 focus areas will be considered for the cohort. 

Those eligible to join the Lab:

  • Growth-stage startups with an AI-focused technology or product 
  • Late-stage startups as partners seeking to elevate their brand as experts and influence the AI industry
  • Corporations as partners sitting at the forefront of AI innovation or seeking to enhance their capabilities and offerings via partnerships 

A selection process will be utilized to ensure that startups admitted to the program are best suited and have proven readiness for optimal lab outcomes. 

Information sessions will be held on 2.08 and 2.22 to provide attendees with a detailed lab curriculum, key dates, and the benefits of participating in the 2024 lab. 


2024 Lab focus areas 

This Lab focuses on several “focus areas” for cohort members to explore, identify, and collaborate to solve real-world problems and innovate responsibly with AI. 

High-level focus areas include: 

  • Efficient & Scalable Data Infrastructure
  • Efficient & Scalable AI Infrastructure 
  • MLOps & ML Workflow
  • AI Governance & Compliance
  • Grounded & Trustworthy AI
  • Multimodal & Generative AI

As our go-to execution partner, Why of AI contributes extensive real-world AI experience and expertise across industries to help design every aspect of the Lab. 

Within the Lab, participants are connected to experts, enthusiasts, and investors through an immersive series of workshops and other experiences throughout the program. The lab experience alternates between virtual and in-person sessions, convening for two weeks in April, a week in May, and a final week in June 2024. 

The program ends with a capstone-like AI Innovation Summit on 06.27.24, a public event dedicated to a full day of immersive programming centered on AI innovation. 

About 1871 Innovation Labs

The Innovation Labs are a dynamic hub for fostering cutting-edge solutions, collaboration, and technological advancement. These labs offer a platform for startups, industry leaders, investors, and venture capitalists to pioneer the future of various industries, including artificial intelligence, cannabis, supply chain, and beyond. 

Typically running for three or four months, the labs are at the forefront of innovation, connecting key players in the tech ecosystem to drive transformative change and accelerate the development of groundbreaking solutions for today’s challenges,

For inquiries about partnerships or sponsorship options for the AI Innovation Lab or Summit, connect with our team

To stay updated on all AI Innovation Lab news, subscribe here

About 1871 

1871, a nonprofit global innovation hub, exists to inspire, equip, and support early-stage, growth-stage, late-stage, and corporate innovators in building extraordinary businesses. 1871 is home to ~500 early-stage startups, ~250 growth and late-stage companies, and ~60 corporates, and is supported by an entire community focused on accelerating their growth and creating jobs in the Chicagoland area. The member experience includes virtual and in-person access to workshops, events, mentorship, and more. The nonprofit organization has 350 mentors available to its members, alongside access to more than 200 partner corporations, universities, education programs, accelerators, venture funds, and others. Since its inception in 2012, more than 1,050+ alum companies are still active, have created over 14,700 jobs, and have raised more than $3.7 billion in follow-on capital.

About Why of AI 

Why of AI specializes in helping organizations quickly gain clarity and confidence by designing customized AI strategies, use cases, and prioritized roadmaps.


About Alex Castrounis 

Alex Castrounis is the founder and CEO of Why of AI, a book author on AI, and a professor of AI for Northwestern University’s Kellogg & McCormick MBAi program. He has over two decades of experience advising startups to Fortune 100 companies on using data, analytics, and AI models to drive business growth and customer success. He is also a former INDYCAR engineer, race strategist, and data scientist who drove winning results for teams such as Andretti Autosport in world-renowned races, including the Indy 500.

1871 and Why of AI are looking forward to a groundbreaking year of collaboration and innovation at the 2024 AI Innovation Lab. We invite the press and the public to join us in exploring the future of the AI industry.

Join as an 1871 Early Stage Member.

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