What the Connectory Could Mean for Chicago’s IoT Startup

Dave Krawczyk believes in the power of connected displays.

His product, the Glance Mirror, seamlessly shows personalized information such as messages, weather and commute times on the outer edges of a bathroom mirror. But he’s got his eyes on bringing that information to more smart home surfaces. And now, in his new office, he can embed Glance technology into the refrigerator, microwave, and coffee maker, and it might just catch the eye of a visiting executive looking to expand their smart home offerings.

“We’re in the customer’s house right now, essentially,” he said.

Glance is one of the first startups moved into the Chicago Connectory, a 19,000 sq. ft. space on the 5th floor of the Merchandise Mart and the first coworking space entirely devoted to Internet of Things startups and tech in Chicago. The Connectory was founded in partnership between tech hub 1871 and German technology company Robert Bosch, who is funding the space, as a way to connect the growing IoT ecosystem in Chicago to a global company that wants to tap into the innovation energy they see driving business today.

The Glance Mirror at the Connectory (Credit: Glance)

For startups, it means there’s finally a central hub for IoT resources and the chance to rub shoulders with a potential big name customer. For Bosch, it means peering over the shoulder of entrepreneurs, learning from their nimble business development with an eye out for potential licensing and acquisition targets.

“We want to build a place for co-creation with startups, university, and corporate partners for our IoT environment,” said Dennis Boecker, global IT innovation lead at Bosch.

Bosch, a engineering and electronics company that spans industries from automotive to appliances, boosted their work with innovators at the ground floor over the last few years. Already they’ve worked with startups through 1871 and the Plug-and-Play accelerator in Palo Alto, and they host several accelerators around the world. But as the company pushes further into integrating IoT across their company (in an effort called “3-S”: sensors, software and services) it became apparent that an “ongoing” effort to connect with startups, keep tabs on new tech, and train employees was needed. Chicago, being a B2B hub, home to several Bosch divisions and located in the center of the country, was the right fit, Boecker said.

Chicago Connectory (Credit: Greg Rothstein)

Chicago Connectory (Credit: Greg Rothstein)

While the Connectory centers around a flexible coworking space, it also includes a maker space with equipment for small prototyping (featuring Bosch power tools and 3D printers), and Bosch will offer technical resources, including a cross-domain development kit and sensors for IoT development. The company will also provide mentorship from their teams on industry topics, such as manufacturing, software engineering and commercialization. Faculty from the School of the Art Institute, Northwestern University and DePaul University, as well as local executives, will have a presence in the space.

Membership costs will be roughly the same at 1871, and members still get access to 1871’s workshops and events. Only two startups were confirmed to be working out of the space at launch, Glance and Xaptum, and interested companies will be jointly reviewed, determined and accepted by 1871 and Bosch.

While the short term goal is to get their teams working side-by-side with startups, Boecker also noted there’s the possibility for Bosch to enter into partnerships, licensing and even acquisitions of startups in the space down the line.

Chicago Connectory (Credit: Greg Rothstein)

Chicago Connectory (Credit: Greg Rothstein)

While building in the backyard of a massive tech and manufacturing company has its obvious benefits, as Krawczyk noted above, Brian Gratch, chief marketing officer at Xaptum, a company creating an infrastructure for IoT, noted they’re not in the Connectory with just to work with Bosch. “Our vision is to grow a large, sustainable, profitable business that has customers from many industries,” he added.

Creating a central IoT hub is a big part of that, however. Concentrating the energy in one place, rather than disparate meetups and office spaces helps bring the conversation, and likely customers, to one location. That was previously missing in Chicago, despite the hardware and software talent coming from Motorola, Lucent and Tellabs, Gratch said. To boost this community, Gratch and Xaptum’s CEO, Rohit Pasam, plan to host monthly meetups for their 2,000 member IoT organization, the Connected Intelligence Foundation, in the Connectory.

“I’m hoping this will put more energy behind this enormous market and be a focal point in the Midwest for all things IoT,” he said.

Krawczyk added that the Connectory could create a clearer development path for IoT startups in Chicago specifically.

“You develop your business at 1871, you develop your ideas at the Connectory…and once you know what that’s going to be, you manufacture that with the help of mHUB,” he said. “It’s a great ecosystem that we have now in Chicago, and it’s a great pathway for these small companies to mature.”

Chicago Connectory (Credit: Greg Rothstein)

Chicago Connectory (Credit: Greg Rothstein)

As more and more startups build IoT and connected technology into their platforms, these extra resources could prove helpful. Leadership at 1871 noted that IoT has been on the “roadmap” of the Merchandise Mart tech hub for some time.

“Our view is that everything will have to be connected going forward so it’s less about how many IoT startups you have and much more about every startup’s strategy and plans to become IoT enabled and connected,” 1871 CEO Howard Tullman said over email.

“We think that IoT, machine learning, AR/MR/VR, and augmented intelligence are all essential skill sets and resources that 1871 should and will need to provide to its members going forward,” he added. “We will continue to build out and expand our offerings in these areas as well as opening other mini-incubators in various domains over the next 18 months.”

Chicago Connectory (Credit: Greg Rothstein)

Chicago Connectory (Credit: Greg Rothstein)

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