The Sitdown: Emile Cambry Jr. on his plans for tech incubator BLUE1647
As told to Sandra Guy, Staff Reporter July 4, 2014 6:08PM
Updated: August 7, 2014 6:19AM
South Loop resident Emile Cambry Jr., can claim impressive titles: filmmaker, intern on then-state Sen. Barack Obama’s election to the U.S. Senate team, former JPMorgan Chase investment banker associate, and former adjunct professor at North Park University. His latest ambition is to do nothing less than make BLUE1647 — a combination tech-startup incubator, innovation center and high-tech workforce-development center in the Pilsen neighborhood — as well-known and in demand as tech hub 1871 at the Merchandise Mart. Cambry, 33, is a University of Chicago Laboratory Schools alumnus who earned his economics degree at the University of Chicago and his MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.
I love the color blue, and we’re at 1647 S. Blue Island Ave., and wanted to own our address and ingrain ourselves as a member of the community. We’re acting as a blueprint of community development by being able to bring innovation here, and we have a blue-collar feel by making tangible products and helping people gain high-tech skills that are in demand.
We’re about making and creating jobs that, hopefully, let people fulfill their dreams. We focus on trying to enlarge the tech community. Some people don’t go downtown. They don’t want to. We want to make sure people feel comfortable.
We have 173 members, but we’re averaging 400 to 500 people a week coming through this space. There are three levels of membership: The basic, plug-in and share co-working space for $25 a month; the ability to share working space while participating in classes, workshops and generating revenue from offering services to others at $150 a month; and for organizations that have at least three or four people, a private office for $450 a month.
We’ve hosted events that attracted 250 people. Last Friday, we hosted an event in partnership with Unetwork.co where Young Guru, the legendary audio engineer to successful musicians such as Jay-Z, spoke on the era of the engineer. We followed that with a mini-hackathon.
We have four 3-D printers, a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine, spectrum analyzers, oscilloscopes, soldering irons and people making physical products, as well as electrical and mechanical engineers on-site. We’re equipped for hardware and software engineering.
It’s in a community that’s important. It’s near where I spent most of my childhood, in an area that’s seeing gentrification, but that has an authenticity that represents what makes Chicago a great city — the neighborhoods. It has close proximity to the expressway, and it has 30 free parking spaces, and the meter costs $4 for two hours if you have to park at a meter.
My dad, being from Haiti, enabled me to see what one opportunity can offer someone. He became an emergency room doctor.
My mother helps people every day, and she deals with tough situations, including having worked at an academy for teenage pregnant mothers.
When I was teaching (as an assistant professor of microeconomics, consumer behavior and quantitative decisions analysis), I had many students with no job prospects. I wanted to get my hands dirty helping people. And when I was working on spreadsheets 12 hours a day at JPMorgan Chase, I felt I was losing that personal touch.
We have FoodTrace, which is taking a look at local and urban farming and trying to find a way to streamline the process of restaurants working with them to obtain fresh foods; Melange Allure, a subscription-based site for women’s cosmetics that sends samples to your door; and Imagine-IT Tech, a prototyping and CAD (computer-aided) design service for inventors and people with ideas to get a prototype made. We have a total of 57 projects underway.
Our most successful workshops deal with patents, trademarks and copyrights. Also popular are pro bono services such as Kirkland & Ellis offering legal expertise.
We want to overcome the developmental opportunity divide. It’s about becoming an analytical community — taking charge to change things and make things better.
We want to get beyond training people for certifications and ramp up training for the kinds of jobs in demand, such as data science and web- and mobile-app development. We’re doing that in partnership with Code Chicago. We want to partner with large organizations and corporations to provide them with services they need, such as refurbishing their outlived computers and putting them into households that need them. We’ve already had 75 computers donated to us without publicly asking for them.
I love watching films. I also founded a film festival, The Chicago International Social Change Film Festival. My favorite films are “Fight Club,” “The Matrix” and other films that are social commentaries but entertaining to everyone. I especially love films on counterculture.
I love baseball, played it in high school and college, but hanging out with friends and family are always great times.
No children or a wife as of yet. Too busy being married to BLUE1647. I sleep in here quite often. You know it’s bad when you have pillows in your office.