What’s the secret to 1871’s success?
It’s not any one, single thing. The magic of our community can’t be boiled down to its base components or solved like an equation. What makes us who we are is all the things that don’t often get put into words—the energy that forms from the density & diversity of the people who share your passions, the surprises & serendipity from every fortunate collision, & the smallest, most unexpected interactions that create the greatest impact.
We know that great things happen when changemakers connect & collaborate!
Our community is made up of thousands of members, mentors, corporate sponsors, university & community partners, VCs, & policymakers that come together from both in-person & virtually from around the world to make a difference in our lives & others.
Here our some of our community members explaining the moments & people that made all the difference to them on their journey:
What is something significant, serendipitous, or surprising that happened during your time at 1871?
Kevin Willer, former CEO of 1871:
A couple of weeks after we first opened the doors of 1871 in May 2012 we were honored to be visited by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, early on a Sunday morning when he was in town for the NATO Summit. We had to make it seem like a regular busy weekday at 1871 so we needed our members to all be there on a Sunday morning, but could not tell them who the VIP guest was so we bribed them with coffee and donuts. The PM was awesome walking the space talking with many of our entrepreneurs—and then meeting in the current TechStars space with the CEO’s of many Illinois-based large corporations like Kraft, Caterpillar, and Groupon.
I do not typically “fan girl,” but I will never forget when I saw Madeline Albright down the 2.0 hallway, took a photo at a huge distance because I didn’t want to be intrusive, and then went to one of the 1 person conference rooms to call my grandma and gush about how omg I just saw Madeline Albright.
Howard Tullman, former CEO of 1871:
President Bill Clinton visit to 1871 and posing with the team.
Lakshmi Shenoy, Embarc Collective & former 1871 team member:
Aside from making so many close friendships with startups and 1871 team members during my tenure, I met my husband while working there! I’ll forever be grateful to 1871 for this.
We earned a lot of press given our status at 1871. We were featured at the opening party and many other events/seminars/etc. I was selected as part of an exclusive group of “Women Who Launch” where we met with Mayor Emanuel to share our feedback on the Chicago start-up ecosystem. Our biggest success, however, was the group of people we met at 1871—many of whom are invaluable to my business (and my life) today.
I will always cherish the first few days as Investor in Residence at Excelerate Labs (now TechStars) when people—yes, even Troy Henikoff—were rolling around the space on Razor Skateboards to get around.
An 1871 mentor, Andy Friedman met with my co-founder, Matt Wren. Andy advised me Matt was looking for a CEO and co-founder and that we should all meet later that day at the 4 pm TGIF in the auditorium. We met over a cold beer and the rest is history.
The funniest thing before Covid is the amount of times I was asked where the men’s washroom was! Since our DePaul room was at the end of university row, I guess I looked like I would know the answer when I was in our office late at night!
I was invited into a Mastermind group formed out of 1871 PYROS Launch members. It’s become almost like a family and an accountability group. I have to say sometimes I work a little harder to try and keep my micro-commitments. Being invited was a moment of serendipity, and I think the honesty of the group genuinely changed the trajectory of my startup!
Who was someone who made a significant impact on your 1871 journey?
Betsy has proven to be a compassionate and visionary leader who puts founders first and advocates for her members. 1871 is one of the true gems of our city and I’m extremely proud to be a member.
I’d like to thank Tony Wilkins—with whom I spent countless hours in 1871’s conference rooms—compiling projections, spreadsheets and pitch decks. Tony is the kind of friend, mentor and advocate that every entrepreneur dreams of having in their corner. I’d also like to thank Steve Collens who championed for 1871 from the very beginning and encouraged me to apply as a member. It was truly the most life changing of experiences and is the reason I remain an active part of the start-up community in Chicago today.
I’ve been a mentor at 1871 for many years and during this time, I’ve met the most incredible people including founders, 1871 team and partners, and my fellow mentors.
1871, you have created such an amazing hub for tech innovation in the city of Chicago! 1871 will always be part of PartySlate’s founding story!
I want to thank Kevin Willer for getting it all started, with a big shout out to the Excelerate Labs / Chicago TechStars team who was there from the beginning. Thank you to Howard Tullman who grew 1871 into an iconic Chicago powerhouse. A gigantic thank you to Betsy Ziegler, who has led 1871 through arguably the toughest economic environment the world has known in recent history. Finally, thank you to all the board and staff members who have made 1871 work—with a special thanks to Rhonda who’s constant enthusiasm at the front desk sets the tone for the entire place when you walk in the door.
A big thanks to the whole 1871 team as well as to all of my former table-mates I’ve had the pleasure to sit with over the years – I’ve been here for a very long time, and it wouldn’t be the same without you all.
1871 is a gift that keeps on giving in my daily weekly interactions of mentors, investors and friends. Those relationships that started a decade ago in 1871 meetings and events continue to be some of the most important in my network. I’m looking forward to seeing where we go in the decades to come!
Lakshmi Shenoy, Embarc Collective & former 1871 team member:
Having been able to build a startup hub model of my own in Florida, I want to thank the founding team of 1871, led by Kevin Willer – you took a big vision and magically brought it to fruition . And I owe so much to Howard Tullman, who served not only as my boss but also as a tremendous personal mentor.
Every time I would enter 1871 I was greeted by a warm and robust welcome from Rhonda. Rhonda’s positive energy was contagious. Happy birthday 1871 and a big hug to Rhonda!
Special thanks to Veronica Blum who first inducted me into this community. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and she is a incredible cheerleader to those of us who are going through the dark valley of entrepreneurship!
Thanks to the entire 1871 staff for always being so accommodating to our students and our DePaul community. Rhonda and Bobby are the best and we missed being there these past two years and glad we are getting back to normal.
Eternal thanks to Sam Yagan for inviting me to help out with Excelerate Labs weeks before they became one of the first tenants at 1871, a big step on a life changing journey.
What has being a part of the 1871 community meant to you?
Thank you, 1871! You provided a platform for Rheaply to grow. You’ve provided a community that reflects the beauty of our city.
When I first entered the doors of 1871 a decade ago, I remember being in immediate awe at the vastness of the space. It felt empowering to bring my ideas and two-year-old startup, SpotHero, to such a large and inviting space. At that time, there was nothing like 1871. The Chicago startup community desperately needed a place where we could gather, connect and innovate. 1871 quickly became more than just that place—it established itself as a home for our community.
In 2016, following an 1871 immersive technology summit I was invited to present at, the seed for BUNDLAR was planted. BUNDLAR now employs 26 people full time (20 in Chicago), and we are creating a new market for augmented reality as a service, with customers including Microsoft and the US Air Force.
I’m proud and excited that we were the first company to be selected for the Orange on the Lake Program, a cooperation between 1871, World Business Chicago and the Dutch Consulate of Chicago.
1871 has consistently focused on diversity, inclusion, and representation. I specifically remember years ago, its intentional effort to – while it was very close anyway – have gender parity among mentors. I’m honored to be part of such a special and inspirational community.
In 2019 when I quit my job to work full time on Eventnoire I was terrified. Immediately joining 1871 was one of the best decisions I’ve made. 1871 was a godsend as the resources and connections they supplied enabled me to move faster, raise my friends and family round quicker, and think more strategically about my business.
1871 has been vital to Spring’s founding, growth, and scaling over the years! It’s been amazing to be a member company at various stages for 6 out of 1871’s 10 years and we’re looking forward to the next 10 and 100 years of 1871’s success in Chicago and beyond!
I loved being part of the 1871 community. I started there with a single desk and remained there through 3 rounds of funding and 2 incubators — Techstars and WiSTEM. We hosted our first event planner educational session in 1871’s event space back in 2018.
I love 1871. BUNDLAR got started because of 1871!
Showcasing our student and alumni startups within the 1871 community has provided tremendous exposure for their business. Many of our students have also participated and won Campus1871 which is an excellent program for our students to collaborate with students from the other universities.
Tony Wilkins, Standing Oak Venture Partners:
Ten years at 1871 has delivered many lifelong friends, lots of laughs, colleagues, mentees and the founders of SpotHero, Cameo, TraknProtect and NutriSense who I met during my office hours sessions….and invested with, proving that you can do well by doing good in a community sponsored ecosystem. Have loved the past 10 years at 1871 and look forward to another 10 years of the same!
10 years ago, 1871 was launched to make founders’ dreams real. Lots have changed in the past decade, hundreds of new companies, thousands of new faces, millions in new funding. However, what stayed the same is the energy that makes us all stand up for each other as part of this community. The energy that makes us all founders, the audacity to pursue a seemingly impossible vision. No matter what happens in the decade ahead, one thing is for sure – 1871 is going to be the place where we show up for each other, shoulder to shoulder, to change the world.
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