A tech incubator is coming to Englewood.
The Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation and BLUE 1647, a tech incubator in Pilsen, have partnered to bring a tech hub to a neighborhood that is typically overlooked when it comes to Chicago’s technology expansion. They have narrowed the location down to two 20,000 square foot facilities near the future location of Whole Foods that’s slated to open in 2016 at 63rd and Halsted.
A decision on the building is expected in the coming weeks, with the incubator up and running by the end of 2015, both organizations said.
The incubator, which will be named BLUE 1647 Englewood, will be a co-working space for startups, a workforce development program for students, will house classes for app and website development —all similar to the incubator in Pilsen—but it will also have a commercial kitchen to focus on food tech, something that will separate itself from other spaces, said BLUE 1647 CEO Emile Cambry.
“It gives us a chance to really branch into one small angle,” said Cambry, who noted that the kitchen will also work with Kennedy-King Community College’s culinary institute. “It will give us different ways in which we can test concepts like food production, food preservation … It gives us a chance to see how we can impact the community from a tech angle but also from a food angle to make the local community better.”
Further expansion into the South Side is something Cambry has been eyeing for some time. Cambry’s Pilsen facility just doubled its 24,000 square foot facility this week. The Greater Englewood CDC, a non-profit founded in 2011 that aims to improve economic vitality in Englewood, had the creation of a tech incubator as part of its 8-point economic plan for the community since the organization’s inception. Greater Englewood CDC Director and President Glen Fulton called the partnership a “match made in heaven.”
“With Cambry having the tech facility, and us having workforce development and economic development as part of our strategy, we felt that the two of our companies getting together would be key to help drive some positive things here in Englewood,” he said.
Changing the perception that the South Side is not interested in tech, or can’t contribute to Chicago’s tech expansion, is a notion both Cambry and Fulton want to dispel. In a powerpoint presentation to potential investors, one slide quoted a line from a recent Crain’s article about why the tech boom isn’t helping the South Side that said “…tech companies seem likely to stay in their comfort zone.”
“We’re expanding the comfort zone,” Fulton said. “[BLUE 1647 Englewood] will create an opportunity for young people and people of all ages to have the opportunity to learn technical coding and anything else that has to do with technology … 85 percent of the people between the age of 16 and 24 in Englewood are unemployed. What we need to do is target in on something that’s going to attract these young people to look for workforce development opportunities within the technology industry. That’s what it brings to us.”
The CIE, a new University of Chicago incubator, will work closely with BLUE 1647 throughout the launch of the Englewood facility and will house some of the Cambry’s intern accelerator students who live further in the South Side, Camby said. BLUE 1647 and the Greater Englewood CDC are getting quotes on the build out and are currently talking to potential financiers. They are meeting with banks next week and intend to officially announce their partnership in the next 10 days.
The two organizations began working together several weeks ago when a member of the CDC came to check out BLUE 1647 in Pilsen. Fulton soon visited the incubator himself and was so impressed with what it was doing for students and young people in that neighborhood, he knew Englewood could benefit from a similar program.
“You can tell the passion that the students have for what they’re trying to do,” he said. “We believe that if we present that opportunity to the student that are down here, then they will take advantage of that, as opposed to staying at home on their block or where trouble is bound to happen if you live in certain areas of Englewood. They’ll have some place to go and feed off of others who have the same type of imagination that they have.”
Yes, the incubator will function as an after school alternative to violence for many in Englewood. But it will offer so much more, both organizations said.
“Art. Creativity. We’re bringing what we’re doing in Pilsen and adding more media and content creation,” Cambry said. “It’s going to be an exciting, dynamic space.”
“It brings a lot of hope and a lot of vision to Englewood,” Fulton said. “It’s been 40 years since Englewood had any type of retail here in this area. This brings a business that offers technology training, a business accelerator, and the opportunity for people to grow and build businesses here in Englewood. And I think it’s a great opportunity.”