Our members & alumni inspire us every single day! 

When we think about creating real, lasting change, you don’t have to look any further than these incredible innovators & leaders. Our community does the hands-on work to create jobs, bring new solutions & products to life, & build a brighter future. 

The collective impact of these innovators have made is clear:

  • $3.5B+ raised in venture capital
  • ~14,500 jobs created
  • 17 unicorns in membership
  • ~400 early stage companies, ~200 growth stage companies, & 200+ corporate partners
  • 850+ alumni startups still scaling

Our members & alumni are the engine that powers change in our communities and the heart & soul of everything we do at 1871. We’re so proud to cheer on every development, innovation, & win, because their success is everyone’s gain. 

Here are some of the major milestones that have made our 1871 community what it is today:

First unicorn born out of 1871: Cameo 

We’re honored that so many unicorns—startup companies with a value of over $1B—have called our community home over the years. Still, there’s nothing sweeter than celebrating the first unicorn to be born out of 1871.

Steven Galanis joined our community in 2016 as an early stage founder, where he went on to build & grow Cameo into the powerhouse it is today. As Galanis notes:

“Building a business from 0 to 1 is super hard and lonely. 1871 made all the difference for me and my team in the early days. Cameo wouldn’t be where it is today without the spontaneous connections I made with fellow entrepreneurs, mentors, and VCs at 1871.”

First woman founder: Erica Bethe Levin

1871 is home to a wide number of women-owned & led businesses, with the number continually growing. Our first woman founder joined our community in 2012. Erica is a rock-star, serial entrepreneur, who has since gone on to build & grow a number of successful startups including CheekyChicago & Globowl

When asked about her time at 1871, she said: 

“Being the first female founder at 1871 has been one of the greatest honors of my professional life. 1871 led me to a myriad of investors, advisors, mentors and friends. Some of my most instrumental relationships come from my time at 1871. Additionally, we were able to garner substantial press for the business given our relationship with 1871—we were covered by Crain’s, the Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Times and CNN.” 

First virtual international member: Ernesto Escalona & Alexandra Ramak

1871 is where paths intersect from anywhere in the world, as our members today access our community virtually, in-person, &  in our virtual reality campus 1871 VX. Our first international members Ernesto Escalona & Alexandra Ramak joined in 2019, who participated in our roadmap programming (PYROS) & built their business BoughtThis while living in Caracas. 

“We are from Venezuela, living in Caracas, and as entrepreneurs we felt lost for a lot of the time and had a rough time trying to find any help in our journey…” they said. “We’ve always believed that success is mainly on you, but being in PYROS makes us feel sure that there are definitely no excuses. We are so grateful and blessed for being here.”

It’s our mission to help all of our innovators make real change in their communities, no matter where they are in the world!

First 1871 CEO: Kevin Willer

1871 first opened its door on May 2, 2012 with the mission of inspiring, equipping, & supporting innovators that are building extraordinary businesses. Leading our organization through our earliest days was Kevin Willer, who served as our founding CEO. 

Kevin aspired to build a community where members can get the resources, mentorship, & peer-to-peer support they need to build companies that will create jobs in Chicagoland. When asked about his goals for 1871 when the organization was just six months old, he said: 

“We want to be a showcase for what’s going on in the startup community in Chicago. When people come here from around the country & the world, we want to show them that this is a great place to build companies.” 

First CityLights award winner at the Momentum Awards: Livongo

In 2020, we acquired the Illinois Technology Association (ITA), which welcomed their community of growth stage companies & expanded our network of support to businesses that are looking to scale for long-term success. 

At the Momentum Awards that year, we had the opportunity to honor Livongo with the first CityLIGHTS Award for growth stage companies given under the 1871 name. Livongo, a company that empowers all people to live their healthiest lives by transforming the healthcare experience, was recognized among an incredible group of finalists—highlighting just how much stronger our community is with our growth stage members. 

During his acceptance speech, then CEO Glen Tullman explained just how important having a community of peers & supporters is in creating change:

“I’m particularly proud of the Chicago tech community that has produced so many great companies that are driving new jobs that pay well, that are driving innovations that are solving a problem, and that are really making a difference.” 

First LTNtech cohort

“As a LatinX entrepreneur, it has been challenging to find business-minded organizations that understand the complexities and challenges of being a LatinX startup and with whom we could engage at so many levels, feel at home, and welcome!” said Cohort 9 alum and Aegis Founder Reginald Maisonneuve. “When that organization is also active and effective in advocating and advancing the businesses under its wings, it is truly rewarding.  That is 1871 & IHCC.  They are making an important difference for us in the short time we’ve been with them.”

LTNtech (formerly LatinX) in partnership with the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is our longest-running affinity program, with our first cohort of 12 Latino-led startups launching in November 2016. Six years & eight cohorts (and counting) later, our LTNtech alumni have gone on to build successful businesses with the resources & connections they made as a member.

First BLKtech cohort: 

BLKtech is our newest affinity program designed to empower Black founders. Launched in 2021, our first cohort featured 26 startups that quickly created a tight-knit community of support. 

When asked about the impact BLKtech had on her journey, Cohort 1 alum & Heart of Culture, Inc founder Keesha Vinson said:

“The beauty of a community is its common unity and to be surrounded with like-minded individuals with similar backgrounds and challenges makes the journey of entrepreneurship bearable. There was something so refreshing about seeing so many individuals who look just like you and are just as ambitious, if not more, on similar paths to solve real problems with amazing businesses. I’d recommend BLKtech to anyone looking for an amazing tribe in their entrepreneurial pursuit.”


This list is just a handful of our community’s numerous firsts, and there are so many more successes & wins that 1871 members have accomplished over the years. 

From our entire 1871 family, thank you to all of our members, mentors, & supporters. The impact our community of innovators have had in tech, Chicagoland, & the world inspires us every day to do what we do.

Here’s to many more years of innovations & milestones!

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