Image: 1871 Chicago / Facebook

Conventional wisdom assumes the majority of incubators are born in the bubble. However, an external partnership recently formed between a community leader and two formidable tech visionaries serves to challenge this long-held notion.

In an attempt to address the lack of diversity that exists in the tech world, several years ago, Howard Tullman and Tom Alexander, principals in 1871, reached out to Omar Duque, President and CEO of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (IHCC).

Comprised of between 400 and 500 active members, the IHCC is a community of business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals committed to empowering individuals in their community through economic growth.

Duque at an 1871 networking event last year.

Duque at an 1871 networking event last year.

Tullman, 1871’s CEO, and Alexander, 1871’s COO, were interested to learn what could be done to make Chicago’s tech scene more inclusive of Hispanic community members. After conceding that this was indeed an issue, Duque queried, “How do we address this?

Demonstrating their desire to bridge the long-held cultural divide, Tullman and Alexander asked for Duque’s assistance, “Help us get there by trying to identify Hispanic tech-entrepreneurs.”

Before you could say “think outside the box,” an incubator partnership was born with a mission: to provide stand-out Hispanic entrepreneurs with the unprecedented opportunity to participate in Chicago’s first ever-tech incubator for Hispanic citizens.

Seeking 12 companies for the pilot cohort, principals in the new joint venture invited interested Hispanic tech entrepreneurs to complete an online application and lobby for inclusion. Application requirements included:

  1. One of the founders of the business needed to be Latino
  2. Business needed to be tech or tech-enabled
  3. They needed to submit their growth strategies for leveraging (or enhancing) their tech or tech enabled idea into a full-blown business.

Currently in the process of currently reviewing applications, Duque commented upon the status quo of applications. “We feel good about a good number of quality companies…not yet prepared to comment yet on who stands out.”

During the week of October 29, 2016, companies chosen will begin a structured 12-week program that, while rigorous, is buffeted by such generous benefits as: start-up assistance for their companies; complimentary membership in 1871; and gratis invitations to participate in workshops, events and mentoring sessions.

In previously published comments, Manny Ozaeta, newly named director of the joint venture and former Director of Membership for 1871, expressed his enthusiasm: “We are giving access to a new generation of business leaders who will change and broaden the entrepreneurial landscape….As a Chicagoan, and as a Latino, I am extremely proud of these efforts. I look forward to the opportunity to continue to grow our community.”

With IHCC’s existing lease scheduled to expire in 2016, the timing could not have been more perfect. Under the two parties’ new arrangement, 1871 would provide office space within their tech hub within the Merchandise Mart and share support services with the IHCC. In turn, the IHCC would help bring more Hispanic tech entrepreneurs into the fold.

1871 was already expanding the 13th floor so it made a lot of sense for us,” explained Duque of his decision to relocate his 13-person staff and small business administration operations to the Merchandise Mart in Chicago’s Loop.

Of the agreement and office provisions which specified inclusion of a learning space, Duque said, “Conceptually, we said what we wanted. The classroom is intended to help create a learning/mentorship environment.

In case anyone questioned, Duque emphasized that this arrangement was NOT to involve the exchange of any moneys. “Not an accelerator….We are not giving out cash, not taking equity and not asking entrepreneurs to pay to participate.”

Rather than provide funding, over the course of the 12 weeks, entrepreneurs will instead gain invaluable knowledge and guidance from highly respected technology and business professionals.

[The pilot entrepreneurs] will meet once a week in our space to ensure sure all foundational business agenda items get covered,” stated Duque, who, in enumerating upon the numerous items, planned to cover accounting, funding, financial, leadership, legal and intellectual property.

According to Duque, the tangible take-aways the first cohort of Illinois Hispanic entrepreneurs are expected to leave with are: collaboration, mentorship, mutual support, opportunities to network and explore new ventures.

Further, as pilot cohorts, participants will gain such essential skills as approaches to customer acquisition, design and execution of business strategies and constructive use of mentors’ feedback.

While demanding, the bottom line is that Hispanic tech entrepreneurs will receive a priceless education coupled with expert support that has the potential to give them the edge, confidence, and real-world exposure they need to go forth and slay in the highly competitive tech arena.

To help empower entrepreneurs, this is our mission,” Duque enthused. “We have a passion to empower entrepreneurs to connect with (mentors) and one another.”