Tagged: Techstars

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.

Techstars’ DEMO DAY in Chicago.

“More than half of the companies are Chicago-based, which doubles the amount of local representation we had last year and is a testament to the power Techstars has to further establish a city like Chicago as a destination for tech startups. Of the 10 companies, six hail from Chicago, with international startups representing Israel and India. Two other U.S. startups, based in Miami and Nashville, round out the list […] we hit the ground running on May 27th and it will be a three month sprint to Demo Day from there!”

10 New Companies for Techstars Summer 2014 Chicago Session” by Troy Henikoff.


Yesterday I made it to Techstars’ DEMO DAY, which featured presentations by 10 startups and was held at the iconic House of Blues in downtown Chicago. Today’s Crain’s John Pletz blog starts by discussing NexLP’s “wow effect” since CEO Jay Leib announced closing $2M in funding at the end of his presentation and in an event geared toward the angel and venture capital community.

I met Jay last month at 1871 during a mentoring session and was impressed by: his vision linking “big text” to “big data,” his consulting background, the team’s experience skill set, a robust foundation and tangible progress already made. NexLP is about “next generation analytics and visualization technology that dramatically reduce enterprise costs related to eDiscovery, froud investigations and compliance.”  That vertical presents an immediate and quite substantial business opportunity definitely worth first addressing. NexLP’s technology could eventually power solutions in other areas such as customer experience and relationship management in communication technology markets.

All 10 startups did an excellent job and got high marks. This was an impressive event and there is a need for congratulating everyone involved. Given my work’s focus on communication networks, I was mostly interested in learning about Telnyx and Gamewisp, in addition to NexLP.

David Casem, Telnyx CEO, defines his company’s business as “enabling universal voice communications via the web, regardless of application and device type,” which he positioned as a disruptive CSP (Communications Service Provider) competing head to head with conventional telcos (network operators) and well known VoIP (Voice over IP) enterprises. I also met David and his team last month before my going to Software Telco Congress. Kelly Littlepage, Telnyx CTO, discussed cost efficiencies delivered by “switches that are virtualized, cloud based, distributed and not dependent on legacy architectures,” coupled with highly efficient routing algorithms, which his proven experience on high frequency trading technologies equips him to lead with. Telnyx is already generating revenues and my recollection is that David highlighted opportunities in the call center sector.

Admittedly, I didn’t know much about Gamewisp before Demo Day. CEO Michael Anderson discussed quite eloquently on stage how his company “gives gaming celebrities the tools to interact with their devoted fans and monetize their content.” Content focuses on game pros with large followings. Gamewisp’s experiences involve gaming video broadcasts, live events and communications. This is a marketplace for video content based on end user subscriptions rather than ad-revenue.

IIT’s Real Time Communications is now a month away, the event’s agenda is pretty much all set, but I think that it would be great to feature NexLP, Telnyx and Gamewisp if they were available to present.

Chicago’s Demo Day showcased two keynote speakers, Tom Ricketts, Founder of Incapital and Owner of the Chicago Cubs, delivered the opening keynote; then Desire Vargas Wrigley, CEO of Giveforward, spoke after the intermission. Both talked about lessons learned by doing. Tom outlined the following:

  • the need for a compelling vision driven by customer emphasis and empathy
  • courage and conviction as well as honest communication
  • working with the right team, exercising leadership by actively contributing to the community

Desire conveyed complementary insights and personal experiences around:

  • leadership as constantly evolving and as a continuous improvement process
  • learning how to best listen and calibrate the needs of the team and the business
  • maintaining the emotional health of the team and how to be vulnerable and open to feedback in that context
  • building strong working and productive relationships with investors and board members

Once again, congrats to everyone involved in yesterday’s Demo Day.