Life at 1871: Chicago’s Tech Hub

May 27, 2016
Oliver Stahl

In the tech world, there are only a few places on the planet that could consider themselves “tech hubs”. Sure, there are neighborhoods in Silicon Valley or office parks of tech-centered companies. What I’m talking about is a true tech hub. A place where it is known that you can always go to find entrepreneurs, builders, and innovators all working in one place together. In Chicago, that place is called 1871.

1871 is unique because it is big enough to allow larger companies to have a presence (Accenture Tech Garage, various Venture Capital funds, etc.), while also being intimate enough that you could start a company in the afternoon after meeting a developer over coffee. With this post, I wanted to share some of my experiences with you the reader, about my personal experience about my time at 1871.

I’ve had the privilege to work in 1871 for almost a year now and I have had a truly remarkable experience in my time here. I thought it might be fun to write a letter to Oliver circa July 2015. Enjoy!


When you are waiting to meet Henry for your job interview at Tribe, take a second to soak in what will be the most interesting place you’ll likely ever work. Before we get too off track, look up at reception, let’s start with Rhonda and Bobby catching you at the front gate. Rhonda knows literally hundreds, if not thousands of names. She will say good morning to you, every single morning and call you by name. Eventually they’ll bring on Bobby to help Rhonda, he’ll become a friend you can goof around with when you see him.

Now that you’re past the gate and on the inside, now is when you will really get to know people. When you begin at 1871, the first person you’ll meet is Manny Ozaeta, head of Memberships at 1871. I’m happy to say that you and Manny will become good friends around the office. It won’t be hard to get to know Manny as he is such an open person, willing to chat about anything from his other interests to 1871 do’s and don’ts. Manny makes sure you get your sea legs on your first day, and lends help when you need it early on.

Once you become an established Rookie, you’ll start meeting more people. You’ll meet Melissa who is in charge of Press and Communications; the gatekeeper to the world if you want to be known around the space and in Chicago tech. Laura runs operations, Jeanne runs events with Vanessa. If you need to find talent, you’ll want to know Laura and Ashleigh who handle the recruiting for 1871. You tell them what you need and they’ll hunt down the right candidates for you. Finally, Red and Adam are the guys usually looking after the hard goods of the space as the facilities leads. The biggest thing to mention here is that everyone mentioned is genuinely trying to make sure you have what you need to succeed.

Then you’ll start to get into the upper echelons of who leads the organization; Tom Alexander, COO of 1871 is the defacto go-to person for anything serious going on. As the former deputy communications director for Mayor Rahm Emanuel he’s sharp, connected, and able to get things done when needed. This hardly will stop him from engaging with entrepreneurs big and small. He’s really tall and acts scary but is pretty nice if you chat him up.

Where do I start with Howard? Howard Tullman might be the most successful entrepreneur in Chicago and you wouldn’t know it if you met him on the street. In fact, at first you’ll just see him around and think he was a dad to somebody here before you figure out who and what he is to the Chicago tech world. If you can believe it, he’s founded multiple companies, created thousands of jobs and always makes time for people. With multiple successful exits, he has built up a staggering net worth and lore as one of the most successful self-made entrepreneurs from Chicago. He saw that Chicagoans interested in tech needed a place to call home. He helped to build 1871 into what it is today while maintaining his philanthropic efforts and other businesses. Howard is the man who makes all of this possible. Whenever he wears his custom Montreal Canadians jersey, be sure to give him props.

However, its not just the staff that makes 1871 such a special place, it’s everyone who calls the space home everyday. You’ll begin to see the same faces during your routine and you can’t help but feel a kinship with them. They struggle just like you everyday to make their dreams a reality. It’s the different organizations, mixed in with the shared space folks that make 1871 what it is. On one end of the building, you have the Startup Institute lead by Lisa Schumacher, Carlin Thomas, Martha Buckley, and Josh Simons churning out new classes of tech-savvy students every quarter. Bunker Labs led by Todd Connor, Justin Walker, and Devin Sizer turn veterans into tech-minded entrepreneurs using their state of the art incubator. Don’t let Justin scare you when he messes with you the first time you meet him, and alternatively don’t try and scare Justin because 12 years of training Navy SEALS will kick in and then you’ll really be scared of Justin! [just kidding Justin, you’re the man!] Universities in the Chicago area have offices actually in 1871, mixed in like the University of Chicago, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola University, Northwestern University all have offices right there for students to use when needed. Startup business accelerators even call the space home from the social good business accelerator Impact Engine led by Jessica Droste Yagan, to the real estate focused accelerator Elmspring led by Bob Gillespie and Brianna Belligio, to the world famous Techstars accelerator led by Troy Henikoff, Brian Luerssen, and Dan Willoughby.

Even though you’ll only be going through Techstars for a few months, its good to know what you’re getting into. You’ll be “fighting up a weight class” with everyone you meet around there. Everyone is really smart, and knows a scary amount about business and what it takes to really build businesses. Just try and soak up everything and learn, it will be over before you know it. You’ll get to work in the Techstars office and interact with some other amazing companies once the program is over (shoutout Specless team, Infiniscene team, Lina and Demetri, Lindsay from Growth Geeks, and Dave from Glidera).

You’ll share an office with your investors from Vue Ventures (shoutout to Ann Marie and Adam!), AM is the best and will always be looking out for you. Always have her back, because she has yours. Aside from being loyal, she’ll always be introducing you to whomever walks in and will play you up endlessly. Learn this from her on how to promote friends and family, it’s an important skill.

More than anything, enjoy your time with the people and at the events while being apart of the 1871. Don’t lose touch with people after, and make sure to visit. Now don’t screw up your interview with Henry, and make the most of your next year because it will be gone before you know it.

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