History has shown us again and again that great things can be born out of tough times. It happened in the early 2000s, when companies such as Amazon, eBay, and Google rose to great heights out of the ashes of the dot-com bust. It happened in the 19th century, after the Great Fire of Chicago destroyed huge swaths of the city in October 1871 — a hugely destructive event which had the silver lining of prompting a massive new age of innovation and rebuilding in the city.
This past year, a new tech- and startup-focused space called 1871 opened in Chicago with the aim of spurring the same kind of innovation boom that occurred in the city 140 years ago. Taking up a full floor of the historic Merchandise Mart building (the second largest building according to square footage in the United States, after the Pentagon), 1871 opened its doors in May 2012. Its goal is simple, but also very ambitious: By bringing together scores of the area’s ambitious tech developers and founders in one big non-profit coworking space, 1871 hopes to help create the kind of community that fosters the best new ideas and helps turn them into reality.
We were in Chicago last month for the TechCrunch Northern Meetups, so we took an afternoon to stop by 1871 and see for ourselves what it was all about. In short, it was huge, buzzing with energy, and pretty amazing.
In the video embedded above, Kevin Willer, a venture partner at New World Ventures and the CEO of the Chicagoland Entrepreneur Council (the non-profit that oversees the 1871 project) gives us a grand tour of the space and tells the 1871 story.
And in the video embedded below, we sit down with a handful of the founders who call 1871 their startup “home” to hear about what they’re working on and why they’re working there. Watch that to meet Jeremiah Seraphine of mobile music app maker Groovebug, Frank Muscarello of IT hardware marketplace MarkITx, Vladimir Jornitski of social media debate app Birdfeud, and Coco Meers of real-time salon and spa appointment booking app PrettyQuick.