Chicago Incubator Space: Where should you take your new company?

By Terri Friel, Program & Strategic Director @VentureConnects      

Chicago has become a very rich city for incubators, accelerators and shared space.  There are so many options that a start-up founder might find the sheer volume of options confusing.  A few guidelines can be helpful to sorting out where is the best place to locate to get the best start and the best support for your company’s future.  

This list gives a fairly comprehensive idea of the types, number and focus of the different spaces available to start-ups for a reasonable price.  Prices can vary from $300-$1000s per month for space depending on the privacy and size you require.  Some provide basic furniture but most provide overhead, meeting space and reception support.  It’s best to ask however, these services might be available for extra fees.  

Some incubators and accelerators also provide programs, mentoring and potential for investments from small to large.  Many simply provide space at a reasonable cost.  Again, you should ask before you move in.  

Here are a few things to consider in choosing the best location:

  1. Price and terms.  What is included in the price, how long can you stay, is renewal an option, what do extras cost.
  2. Space.  How much space will you get?  Does it include access to phone rooms, meeting rooms, board rooms or conference/training space?  Is access at a price or included in the rent? Will the space grow with your company or will it require a move?
  3. Investor and mentor access.  Does the incubator have a track record of helping start-ups launch and gain investments?  Ask for contact information of former residents.  Then call them and ask what their experience was like.  
  4. Programming.  Does the space provide teaching/learning events that are helpful to your progress?  Ask for a program schedule or a list of last year’s programs to see what was available.
  5. Incubator/Accelerator Focus.  Some are multi-industry and welcome any type of company to their space.  Others are focused on a certain type of industry.  There are upsides and downsides to this.  While a focused industry can help investors find you, it can also limit your exposure to others doing things that could peripherally or directly impact or assist you.  Always ask about the focus.  Ask what types of industries are currently in residence.  Even without a focus, a particular type of industry can begin to populate the space.
  6. Location.  Is the space close to where you need to be? Do you need to be in the Chicago Loop or is a location outside the loop better?  Consider your commute time but also potential for collaboration and networking.  
  7. Determine whether you need shared space, incubation or acceleration.  These are very different approaches.  Shared space is simply that.  You have some back office support (WIFI, reception, phones, etc) but not much else.  Incubation is for early stage companies that need education and support for launch.  Acceleration is for more mature companies that are looking for growth.  

The decision to have an office space is an important one for your company.  Take your time and find the best fit and opportunity for your company before you buy.

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