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1871 coming in 2012

February 21, 2012|By Mick Swasko, RedEye

Building a startup from a simple idea to a million-dollar business can be tough, and Kevin Willer knows it.

Part of that struggle, the president of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center said, is finding a place for a young tech startup to call home base for its operations. That means high-speed Internet, phones, workspace, some meeting rooms and storage—all of which can be overwhelming for a fledgling business just getting its feet wet.

Enter 1871, a nonprofit, 50,000-square-foot space in the Merchandise Mart. The venture will house hundreds of entrepreneurs who pay month to month for a shared workspace as they launch their ventures. Set to open in the spring, more than 100 companies have requested space in the office.

"Entrepreneurs represent a massive amount of people in this city," Willer said. "We're building a place where new companies can be built."

Willer said 1871 will serve as a "steppingstone" for young tech startups, which later may raise enough capital to move to spaces of their own. But while they grow, Willer said, 1871 will offer classes and workshops for startups inside the center. Space also will be set aside for various Chicago universities and investment firms to have a presence.

He said he hopes companies such as Groupon continue to fund small startups, and said that sort of reinvestment in the startup community will make Chicago a more desirable place for entrepreneurs.

"Right now we are really hitting our stride," Willer said. "There will be a clear sign of success or failure [with 1871]; you're not going to be able to spin that very much."

mswasko@tribune.com | @mickswasko

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