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Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center looks for ‘world-class’ candidates to replace Kevin Willer

KevWiller ChicagolEntrepreneurial Center during news conference announcing new technology center 1871 Jan. 18 2011.  |  John H. White~Sun-Times.

Kevin Willer, of Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, during news conference announcing the new technology center 1871 on Jan. 18, 2011. | John H. White~Sun-Times.

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Updated: March 15, 2013 1:12PM

Chicago’s energetic technology startup scene is attracting eager candidates hoping to succeed Kevin Willer as CEO of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center and point person for the 1871 tech hub.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 25 interested candidates had sent emails to Bryant Keil, co-chairman of the center and 1871 and founder of Potbelly Sandwich Works.

Willer, 38, announced Wednesday that he’s leaving the CEO post after nearly two years to become a partner in Chicago-based early-stage venture capital fund i2A.

Willer will remain CEO for the next few months while the nonprofit CEC looks for a new leader. He will remain a member of the center’s board of directors and its executive committee.

Insiders speculated Wednesday that two possible candidates could be Dan Lyne, director of technology development at World Business Chicago, and Una Pipic, the chief operating officer of the center, who oversees 1871’s daily operations. Neither could be reached for comment.

Keil declined to comment on possible candidates’ names.

Keil said he hopes the next CEO comes from the Chicago area, but any “world-class” candidate who can execute the CEC and 1871 mission will be considered. Keil’s co-chairman is Jim O’Connor Jr., who co-founded Motorola’s venture capital investment arm, Motorola Ventures. Both Keil and O’Connor are members of a four-person CEO search committee. The board also has hired an executive search firm to identify CEO candidates.

Keil said a successful candidate will be a strong leader, a successful entrepreneur and someone who can execute the center’s strategic plan and motivate its staff and 1871’s entrepreneurs.

“It is a high-profile position with an organization that is really impacting startups, entrepreneurs and the technology community in Chicago and beyond,” Keil said.

The center’s mission eventually will expand to include 1871-like collaborative spaces for other industries, such as biotech and retail/restaurant development, Keil said.

“The 1871 concept, focused on tech startups, is one spoke off of the core of the CEC,” he said. “At the right time, other spokes can emanate.”

That kind of growth, along with a respected staff, let the center’s search committee be “very very selective,” Keil said.

Matt Moog, the founder and CEO of Viewpoints Network who chaired the 1871 project, said Willer’s successor would be expected to have excellent relationships with Chicago’s universities, the tech community, venture capitalists and city and state government.

“Kevin built a great team of people who brought more resources, visibility and programming to the CEC,” Moog said.

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