Chicago product development, prototyping and manufacturing has a new home in an old innovation center on the West Side.

On Wednesday Mayor Rahm Emanuel, World Business Chicago and Catalyze, a hardware coworking hub, announced mHUB, a new center set to open to the public this fall, focused on promoting innovation in manufacturing. The 63,000 square foot facility, located at 965 W. Chicago Ave in the former Motorola Mobility (a Lenovo company) prototyping and testing lab, will house extensive equipment for product development as well as a coworking space for entrepreneurs. The aim is to connect manufacturers with Chicago’s tech community to jumpstart hardware and product startups.

Shop rendering (Credit: mHUB)
Shop rendering (Credit: mHUB)

“mHUB will help spark innovation and growth in the industry, and encourage the development of cutting-edge manufacturing products for the future,” said World Business Chicago president and CEO Jeff Malehorn in a release.

The space includes 10 fabrication labs (including electronics, rapid prototyping, testing and a wood shop), a “micro-factory” with equipment to support low-volume production runs on-site and a coworking space. Over $1.5 million in equipment will be purchased and brought into the space over the next few months, and mHUB will retain the majority of Motorola testing equipment left in the space.

Membership rates start at $145 per month for part-time access to the prototyping lab, and there are tiered membership options for early stage entrepreneurs and established enterprises. All members have access to mentorship, community events, affiliate discounts and classes.

Members aside, leaders plan on a “robust calendar” of educational programs, networking events and workshops to draw the larger tech community into the product development space.

Haven Allen, previously an economic development strategist at World Business Chicago, will serve as executive director of mHUB. So far mHUB has raised $5 million in signed contracts, Letters of Intent and in-kind donations. In the future, they plan to seek funding from industry and private foundations, as well as public funding.

The space is expected to officially open to the public in October, and be 80 percent built out by November.

Catalyze, a coworking hub previously headquartered in the West Loop, partnered with World Business Chicago to kickstart mHUB. All of Catalyze’s members will have early access to the space, and mHUB will serve as Catalyze’s only home starting September 1. Since launching in 2014, the hardware hub has worked with 56 companies, which launched 67 successful products and generated $57 million in revenue. Bill Fienup, CEO of Catalyze, will serve as the space’s managing director.

“The maker-entrepreneurs of Chicago are building companies, securing patents and selling products,” Fienup said. “With access to the robust facilities and resources like MHUB’s network of mentors, investors and manufacturing partners, this is a game-changer for Chicago.” 

This is a game-changer for Chicago.

“It is my continued promise as mHUB’s founder and managing director, to ensure that every community participant has access to the resources they need to invent and launch their manufacturing businesses,” he added at a press conference for the event.

Several Catalyze startup founders said they’re excited about the move and expanded resources.

“If you want to put something in someone’s hands, you can’t do it in one spot, you’ve got to go all over the place,” said Michael Infanger, founder of Verena Solutions, a medtech startup creating a safer needle capping process for dentists. “Rather than opening up our own space like this…with just our own equipment, we can probably have a seat here no matter how big we get. Because there will be no [cheaper] way of doing real world systems in low volume than a place like this.”

“It will be great to have more people, to build that community and learn more from people with different backgrounds and ideas,” added Natalie Mathes, also of Verena Solutions.

“As a startup trying to decide: Do I manufacture this in China? Do I manufacture one part versus another? Being able to do all that in house will be excellent,” said Kara Myers, founder of Lystr, a smart grocery list device. “We’ll have those resources here more so than we did at Catalyze.”

“It kind of feels like taking a proof-of-concept prototype and really scaling it to a venture-viable business,” she added.

mHUB was developed over the past year and a half with World Business Chicago’s Advisory Council for Chicagoland Manufacturing, with community partners UI Labs, the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC), the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition and Catalyze Chicago. 

It feels like taking a proof-of-concept prototype and really scaling it to a venture-viable business

Industry partners include Chase Foundation, GE Ventures and Marmon. Partners include Ask Power, Autodesk, Chamberlain Group, Comcast, Kirkland & Ellis, MINIMAL, TMA Education, UL and Wiegel Toolworks.

“Access to entrepreneurial manufacturing talent with digital skills will be critical to the success of our digital industrial transformation,” said Karen Kerr, senior managing director of advanced manufacturing at GE Ventures at the press conference. “Educational programming at mHUB will be help develop the talent pool that manufacturers like GE need, as manufacturing becomes more digital.”

Mayor Emanuel talks with Verena Solutions founder at mHUB
Mayor Emanuel talks with Catalyze founder Bill Fienup (left)  Verena Solutions founder Michael Infanger (right) at mHUB
mHUB, located in an old Motorola prototyping lab, will have a coworking space and kitchen facilities.
mHUB is located in an old Motorola prototyping and testing lab at 965 W. Chicago Ave. They’ll be using some of Motorola’s leftover equipment, seen here.
mHUB entrance


Note: The post has been updated with additional quotes from the press conference, and to reflect that mHUB will not offer catered lunches to members.