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Tech hub 1871 expanding at Merchandise Mart

Mayor Rahm Emanuel with 1871 CEO Howard Tullman (right) Merchandise Mart event earlier this year.  |  Al Podgorski/Chicago

Mayor Rahm Emanuel with 1871 CEO Howard Tullman (on right) at a Merchandise Mart event earlier this year. | Al Podgorski/Chicago Sun-Times file

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Updated: July 18, 2014 6:15AM

Tech hub 1871 will announce a 25,000-square-foot expansion at the Merchandise Mart on Tuesday, funded partially by a $2.5 million grant from the state of Illinois.

Two years after it opened its doors at the Mart, CEO Howard Tullman said the digital business incubator wants to make more office space available to alumni companies and venture capital firms hoping to get a foothold in Chicago.

It also wants to form “clumps or clusters” of companies working in six or seven key areas of digital or mobile technologies including education, real estate, food, women and technology and the “Internet of things” — how smart devices communicate with each other and the people who use them.

“Your clothing will measure your exercise and the calories you burn,” Tullman said, explaining the concept. “Every kind of device like that.”

Tullman said some companies that have grown out of 1871 “aren’t that crazy about leaving,” because that usually means devoting precious energy to mundane concerns like office furniture and security deposits. The travel-options website Options Away will be among the alumni to remain in “one of the big spaces” after the expansion,” Tullman said.

The $2.5 million grant from Illinois’ Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will be funded by bond proceeds from the Build Illinois program, according to department spokesman Dave Roeder, who said that follows an initial state investment of $2.3 million.

The biotech startup incubator MATTER will also be part of the facility, Roeder said. That endeavor received its own $2.5 million investment from the state earlier this year, along with a $1.5 million loan for seed money.

That brings the state’s total investment in the facility to $8.8 million.

Roeder said 1871 helped generate “more than a thousand jobs” since it opened its doors. Now he said the state has high hopes for its expansion plans.

“We hope it’s going to power a lot of new growth,” Roeder said.

In a prepared statement, Gov. Pat Quinn said, “1871 has become a true entrepreneurial hub for our state and its expansion means more career opportunities for the hardworking residents of Illinois.”


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