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Chicago Innovation Exchange Opens for South Side Entrepreneurs

By Sam Cholke | October 16, 2014 1:54pm
 The University of Chicago opened the Chicago Innovation Exchange business incubator on Thursday.
Chicago Innovation Exchange Opens
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HYDE PARK — South Side entrepreneurs have already found a home at the Chicago Innovation Exchange, even before the University of Chicago could finish cutting the ribbon on Thursday.

“I actually prefer to work here,” said attorney Kimberly Jean Brown, who runs an estate planning practice out of her Kenwood home.

Brown won the U. of. C. South Side Pitch competition Oct. 6 with her idea for an online service for drafting a will or setting up a living trust.

She will spend the next six months working out of the Chicago Innovation Exchange, 5328 S. Harper Ave., and have access to training and faculty at the University of Chicago to get the business up and running.

“The ability to immediately bounce ideas off another person is the best,” Brown said.

Brown said she found herself frequently sitting next to Ava St. Claire, a South Shore branding and marketing entrepreneur who is researching the decision-making processes of small-business owners on the South Side during her six-month tenure at the exchange.

“I was actually looking for interns the day I was accepted,” St. Claire said. “I was going to go under if I didn’t get some help.”

St. Claire said she was immediately able to find interns and experts and feels she’s made real progress on figuring out some of the cultural issues that are slowing business growth in her neighborhood.

“Even the idea of failure is a disaster,” St. Claire said of her early interviews with business-owners. “I want to figure that out — and I think I have a solution.”

University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer said the Chicago Innovation Exchange was meant to create an “innovation ecosystem” for entrepreneurs to bounce ideas off each other an easily find expert advice and mentors.

“The university can have a potential role in contributing to and possibly driving these systems,” Zimmer said at a ribbon cutting ceremony in the large co-working space above Harper Theater. “This represents our effort to drive these ecosystems on the South Side and in the city as a whole.”

Gov. Pat Quinn praised the effort and announced the state would invest $1 million in a new 3-D printing and fabrication lab set to open next year as a second phase of the exchange.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said it was encouraging to see the focus on innovation expand beyond Downtown, where tech incubators like 1871 are located.

“I’m excited that all parts of the city will have an innovation center,” Emanuel said. “It’s not in the distance, it’s in our backyard.”

The Chicago Innovation Exchange provides office space for about 30 businesses and has a capital fund of $20 million to fund start-ups.

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