Tagged: startup

1871: Chicago’s Digital Startup Incubator

Thanking Troy Henikoff for a recent1871 walk-thru, which I joined as part of an MIT delegation. We first met at Techstars Demo Day back in 2014. Three years have gone by since, Troy is now a Managing Director with Math Venture Partners, an early to growth-stage fund focusing on entrepreneurial undertakings featuring “an unfair advantage in acquiring and retaining customers to produce outsized returns.” Here is a sample of Math’s portfolio.


1871 is a digital startup incubator and is positioned as Chicago’s premier center for entrepreneurship in the tech sector. Techstars is a startup accelerator and, as pointed out above, Math Venture Partners is an investment firm.

Long story short, 1871 is first and foremost optimized as a community environment. The underlying supporting framework provides collaborative workspaces, training focusing on design, technology and business, which includes senior mentorship, incubators and accelerators. All of these opportunities are available following the under-one-roof collocation practice downtown Chicago.

“What is 1871? The story of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 isn’t really about the fire. It’s about what happened next: A remarkable moment when the most brilliant engineers, architects and inventors came together to build a new city. Their innovations — born of passion and practical ingenuity — shaped not just Chicago, but the modern world. What started 140 years ago continues to this day. Come to a place where you can share ideas, make mistakes, work hard, build your business and, with a little luck, change the world.” –  1871

Matter is 1871’s neighbor and Chicago’s healthcare startup incubator. As shared in this Chicago Tribune’s article, Chicago has major hospitals, medical schools, pharmaceutical and device companies, a powerful healthcare hub which Matter seeks to galvanize by supporting entrepreneurial initiatives and innovative tech.

Chicago’s area is also home to leading institutions such as University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Loyola University Chicago, The Illinois Institute of Technology, and DePaul University just to name a few. So, academia and industry intersect to take advantage of talent and business opportunities. 


My personal interest in environments such as 1871 has to do with a “give & take” experience. Born in Hispania and back in the distant Roman times, Seneca the Younger believed that we are learning even more when we share knowledge that we might already posses. Basically, he was talking about Human Factors and Information Interaction: a virtuous feedback loop kicks in when we strive to articulate thoughts and structure conceptual frameworks to better convey insights. That, in turn, springs new thoughts.

I pride myself about having developed a mix of creative and in-depth expertise on innovation practices thanks to a fortunate interdisciplinary career spanning 20+ years already. That personal belief is backed by specific achievements and, admittedly, some disappointments, both having delivered teachable moments worth reflecting upon.

So, in a “give and take” scenario, my “giving” has to do with sharing know-how and synthesizing relevant advice to entrepreneurs, which I have been able to provide by joining Dr. Moises Goldman’s 1871 mentoring sessions on several occasions.

Going back to Seneca the Younger’s thinking, in exchange for volunteering my time (and whichever insights I can provide) I always get to “take” away valuable experiences back home with me such as:

(1) a sense of great satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from helping others in a meaningful way,

(2) a contagious entrepreneurial spirit that one can instinctively embrace in discussions driven by passion and determination,

(3) their combined positive impact in my own work since they re-energize my thoughts and goals.

My grandma used to remind me about a Spanish saying that translates into “tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are,” which might equate to “birds of feather flock together” in English. In any case, and leveraging Human Factors again, social and professional networks can be graphically depicted by nodes (individuals) and links (relationships), which can carry information such as reputation and influence levels, as well as information dissemination paths. So, I’m glad to count those who I interact with at 1841 as part of my network and can only hope that this is a mutually beneficial relationship.

Innovator’s behaviors


For simplicity sake, I started this outline thinking that just framing 3-5 leading behaviors would do the job to being with. But, interestingly enough, late last night I ended up listing 10 concepts as part of this first version of my model, which I will further develop in subsequent writings.


Vision – outlines far-reaching and game-changing insights; defines new value shaping future opportunities; clarity gives the project a purpose and a given sense of direction.

Motivation – envisions rewards and provides the inner drive coupled with the force to get the project off the ground.

Habit – consistent practice; endurance gives our habits staying power and momentum without involving further thoughts and decisions.

Discipline – it takes willpower to make progress in the face of setbacks, occasional negative self-talk and emotional rollercoasters.

Passion – focuses on compelling convictions framing positive outlooks; a believe system injecting enthusiasm and the kind of intensity that is needed in defining moments.

Creativeness – leverages analytical skills that connect dots unveiling new unconventional solutions; some entail simplicity while other yield elegant sophistication.

Resourcefulness – helps assemble what’s needed to get the job done; specially in crunch time, under pressure and when operating under hardship.

Collaboration – all individuals should feel and be empowered to make a difference, while understanding that it often takes teamwork and partnerships to make things happen.

Agility – this is about staying nimble all the way while setting the pace, striking trade-offs, course correcting, adapting and morphing as needed.

Entrepreneurship – risk taking spirit behind exploring and venturing on new journeys, often going well beyond one’s comfort zone in the mix of uncertainty.

While these 10 terms are set in some logical order, the fact is that innovating is a dynamic endeavor, one that can be highly volatile. The implication is that different stages and situations require different mixes and dosages of these attributes. What makes us smarter is (1) our ability to figure out what actually applies best in a given context as well as (2) engaging in a continuous improvement mindset.

If interested in the this topic, chances are you might already be thinking of stuff that seems to be missing. There are more key items that matter such as leadership. As an example, this topic can be addressed in terms of resourcefulness and collaboration just to begin with. This type of frameworks are reference models designed to structure the start of a meaningful discussion. That leaves you in charge of what the actual thought process and conversation should be about, and how deep one must think thru and go into any given subject.