All photos courtesy of mHub.

By Ashley Alt

Before March of this year, Chicago didn’t have a resource center for product developers looking to get their products out into the world. On March 2nd, entrepreneurs’ dreams came true when a manufacturing facility opened its doors to the public and widened the eyes of innovators everywhere.

mHUB, Chicago’s first innovation center for physical product development and manufacturing, is the new “it” place for anyone looking to get their hands on the most sophisticated equipment out there, namely, entrepreneurs, engineers, product designers, and developers on the hunt for a creative space to bring their inventions to life and bounce ideas off others in the co-working space.

According to a press release, this center “has received commitments of more than $8 million from its industry partners” who wanted to help bring this vision to life. Commitments come in from the likes of Marmon, Chamberlain Group, Comcast Business, and many more.

The aim is to connect manufacturers with Chicago’s tech community to jumpstart hardware and product startups, but Co-Founder of the organization, Haven Allen, sees a much larger picture.

“We hope that this becomes a real center of gravity for people,” Allen said on plans for the innovation center. “Chicago is the most diversified manufacturing base in the U.S.” he continued, “And there’s a strong sense of the industrial and commercial internet of things market here.”

It’s (A Lot) More Than A Manufacturing Facility

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Much more than a physical space, mHUB, boasting 63,000 square feet of 10 extensive equipment stations and shops, also offers mentoring and educational programs, and hosts networking events and other in-house workshops.

“We’ve set this up so people can do their prototypes and test the market first, so things are able to move quickly,” Allen explained of individuals ready to commercialize their products. “Here, we’re giving people access to more equipment and connecting people with the industry where they’re all sharing with each other and cross-contracting.”

To date, mHUB is comprised of over 100 members spending 140+ hours a month working toward finalizing their products. A few examples of industry types a part of mHUB? Woodworkers, medical device specialists, business students, electrical engineers, product designers, technology coders and more.

As word continues to get out, the list will continue to keep growing. Industry types looking for access to the resources needed to commercialize their products are encouraged to apply, and can do so online.

How mHUB Was Created

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Catalyze Chicago, a nonprofit co-working hub dedicated to Chicago’s hardware-focused entrepreneurs, partnered with World Business Chicago, which kickstarted mHUB. At the time, Allen held the title of economic development strategist at World Business Chicago, and got in touch with Catalyze Founder and mHUB Co-Founder, Bill Fienup.

With the intent of opening a space so product developers had somewhere to go, the founders posed important questions on what specifically mHUB should stand for and offer, asking themselves, “How do we get the industry together to overcome these digital hurdles?”

When they realized there wasn’t a resource for this in Chicago other than digital spaces like 1871, they began brainstorming, used the resources and connections they had from Catalyze and World Business Chicago, and created the powerful platform.

“If we’re looking to prepare people for jobs and careers and start a serious business, we have to do this,” Allen said of starting mHUB. “We’re tapping into a lot of industry know-hows. We’re building smart cities, smart buildings, and we want to be the place where these different parties are convening and creating.”

The grand opening of mHUB was held at the massive space on March 2nd, where not hundreds, but thousands of the team’s “closest friends and family,” as Allen puts it, came together to support the initiative and check out the spread. 

Almost fully funded by the private sector, mHUB was made possible also by corporate contributions from companies like Chase, GE and Marmon Group, all who have made multi-year commitments to keeping the facility a state-of-the-art manufacturing production.

“We have powerful investors along with other key players that see value in this,” Allen said. “We have a lot of ambitious ideas about what we want to do.”

Driving Growth For Chicago’s Entrepreneurs

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The maker-entrepreneurs of the Windy City are already doing an outstanding job of building billion dollar companies, securing patents and selling award-winning products. Now that they have access to the robust resources that mHUB has to offer, people are viewing this newcomer as game-changing.

With mHUB leaders assembled from different backgrounds across the board including Marketing, Consulting, International Relations and Graphic Design, there’s no doubt that the operation will spark even more innovation and growth in the industry. With the near 1,000 startups in Chicago looking for access to education, mentoring and product placement, the growth potential for mHUB is exciting, to say the least.

In addition to the membership offering, mHUB will be hosting a series of community events frequently, the Hackathon/Makeathon in May as the highly anticipated teaser.

During this particular event, set to take place in May, individuals will be invited to engage, learn, and use the center’s equipment. The kicker? The person to come up with the best solution for mHUB’s business question, in partnership with the Marmon Group, (information not yet released) will be rewarded $10,000 to put toward their new or not yet thought of product.

The innovation center also offers tours, Monday-Saturday, which have been in full force since the grand opening, already having groups come in from Texas, Montana, Missouri and Ohio.

“As a co-working community of mentors, industry experts and investors, I see this also as an incredible source of intellectual and economic capital,” Allen told us. “I’m thrilled about the future.”