Chicago has made a steady climb as one of the fastest growing startup ecosystems in the world. Since 2012, the city made a nice hop skip and a jump from #10 to #7 in its ranking and is just getting started. According to INC 5000’s list of top cities for fast growing companies, Chicago is home to 104 of America’s private companies plus a total of 37 Fortune 500 companies like Boeing, State Farm and most recently, Kraft Heinz Co.. With a central location, affordable living options and quick Uber from two of the world’s major airports, Chicago serves more than deep-dish pizza.
“Chicago is a fast growing startup hub with a long and remarkably strong technology innovation heritage” says Serhat Cicekoglu, Founder of the international startup accelerator, Sente Advisory. “With its access to a very large base of customers in close proximity compared to other ecosystems, Chicago gives startups from overseas a great opportunity to test their growth hypothesis.”
That “strong innovative heritage” Serhat mentioned is more than meatpacking, skyscrapers and the wireless remote control (you’re welcome). Chicago is home to one of the largest innovative hubs in the world - 1871. Every day, over 400 early-stage high-growth digital startups set up shop on the 12th and 13th floor of Chicago’s tech epicenter, the Merchandise Mart, to “test their hypothesis” amongst a city of builders, investors and experts.
Since its first breath 4 years ago, the 1871 community has focused much of its attention on fostering global startup collaboration by housing international accelerator Sente Advisory and the 12 week intensive start-up accelerator program LandInChicago - programs that make U.S. market-entry possible.
“1871 is proud to host these international companies as they hit the ground running in the U.S. market," said Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871. "We believe that Chicago is the best point of entry into the U.S. market because our ecosystem offers access to customers and capital alike, as well as significant support and mentorship. This cohort represents our commitment to bringing new minds and great talent from all over the world to Chicago, and we congratulate Sente and LandInChicago on their success."
After a 6-week boot camp back in Helsinki, LandInChicago’s inaugural cohort of top selected Finnish tech startups - Redland, NOOA & Qentinel - entered into Chicago the same day as the Chicago Marathon to hit the ground running. With 1871 as their starting line into the US market, they will go through a rigorous business development training, shake hands with potential investors and collect advice from their industry’s mentors. Their “Chicago Marathon” finish line: a demo day on Oct 19 hosted at 1871.
Despite their sweat and dedication, there's a chance that their choice of starting line could become their achilles heel. So why start in Chicago?
For LandInChicago member startup, Qentinel, a software company that combines the robustness of industrial quality management with the agility of the digital work, Chicago isthe mecca of quality in the digital age.
Qentinel’s Founder, Esko Hannula states, “Chicago and Illinois are home to many great companies that are now leading the fourth industrial revolution. We want to be a part of it. And a program like LandInChicago can save a lot of time and money for a new entrant.”
Esko’s right. Just this past September, digital transformation leaders in big-data analytics, the Internet of Things (IIoT) 3D printing, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies gathered together at the Smart Industry 2016 conference, in Chicago. Those that attended represented GE, Emerson, Siemens, Intel and Uptake Technologies, a Chicago-based predictive analytics Saas platform provider (named Forbes Hottest New Startup in 2015).
And again, why the windy-city versus other tech hubs in the U.S.? According to Smart Industry publisher, Tony D’Avino, “Chicago is a natural hub for our annual event, as the most exciting digital-transformation initiatives and the most innovative minds can be found here."
Like inside Chicago’s top universities. “Chicago is home to some of the best universities, like University of Chicago and Northwestern, which creates an incredible talent pipeline. Thousands of students each year are looking for internships and full-time positions,” says Senior Director of University of Chicago’s entrepreneurial center, The Polsky Exchange, Kristin Barrett. “They are able to gain experience in entrepreneurship through University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Northwestern's The Garage. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign also graduates more computer science students each year.”
The three universities mentioned above (plus Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola University Chicago, DeVry University and most recently, DePaul University) all have satellite offices located inside 1871. This kind of access right in one watering hole only helps when looking for top talent to join the team and recruit business advice. And if Chicago-based startups need a break from this force of (windy) nature? Just head southwest to Champaign, Illinois, a city voted by Forbes Magazine as the top best places for business study. Here you can visit UIUC’s Research Park that brings in more and more corporations like Deere and Abbott in each year to work side by side with it’s member startups.
“The most successful startup hubs benefit from strong connections to major universities, and Chicago’s got a great advantage there” says University of Chicago Booth Business School graduate and Sente Advisory COO, Gerod Carfantan. “This strong foundation emphasizes Chicago’s analytical rigor and creates invaluable connections between startups, corporations, governments and educational institutions.” A recipe for success when an international startups decides it’s time to scale in the United States.