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Emanuel unveils ‘final piece of manufacturing puzzle’

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and mHub managing director Bill Fienup (left) toured the manufacturing incubator Wednesday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and mHub managing director Bill Fienup (left) toured the manufacturing incubator Wednesday. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel moved Wednesday to secure Chicago’s place as a hub for advanced manufacturing and a magnet for “the next great entrepreneur.”

The “final piece of the manufacturing puzzle,” as the mayor put it, is called mHUB. Think of it as the manufacturing equivalent of 1871, the boot camp and innovation center for tech entrepreneurs housed at the Merchandise Mart.

The manufacturing version will be in a 63,000-square-foot River West facility once used by Motorola Mobility as a prototyping and testing lab.

At mHUB, nascent manufacturers will get the soup-to-nuts support they need to flesh out, engineer and develop their ideas into products, pitch venture capitalists, produce prototypes and bring their products to market.

They’ll have access to consultants, a 3D-printing lab, a metal shop and electronics labs. Monthly membership fees will start at $145 for part-time access to the prototyping lab.

Additional packages will be offered for early-stage entrepreneurs all the way up through established enterprises. That includes shared co-working space ($300 a month), rental of varying sizes of offices ($1,250 to $5,250 a month) and “garage lab” rentals ($1,500 a month).

No matter what membership they choose, it will include access to a “mentor network, community events as well as classes and support services” tailor-made to help manufacturing entrepreneurs grow their companies faster.

“If another city was doing this, we’d all be saying, `Why don’t we do that?’ Well, it’s happening right here in the city of Chicago . . . This innovation space is the final piece of the manufacturing puzzle,” Emanuel said Wednesday during a news conference at mHUB.

“You go from R&D to talent development at Richard J. Daley [College] to zones that are clearly going to be invested [in by] the city in our growth zone strategy. And now, an innovation space so the innovators and entrepreneurs we just met in manufacturing have a place working together, working on their products where they can take risks without feeling like they’re gonna financially fail in a way that they cannot [start]up their company.”

Emanuel noted that when he took office five years ago, Chicago was “at zero” when it comes to creating “innovation spaces.”

Now it’s home to more than 100 innovation centers. They’re led by 1871 for software and what Emanuel calls the “new economy;” Matter for innovators in the health care industry; 2112 for those in the music and entertainment field, and now, mHUB for advanced manufacturing.

“Each of these innovation spaces allows the diversity of the Chicago economy to stay always at the cutting edge and have entrepreneurs who come from some major companies or medium-sized companies to take their idea and become the next great entrepreneur,” Emanuel said.

Noting that college graduates from all over the Midwest choose to start their careers in Chicago, the mayor said, “They come with their ideas, their backgrounds, then split off and start their own company. This allows Chicago to always be reinventing itself and being at the forefront.”

Mark Tebbe, chairman of Chicago NEXT, said he looks forward to a “collaboration” among all of the city’s innovation hubs.

“Someone who is building a product over at Matter or building a product over at 1871 but needs to do a quick prototype can have an engineer here that they can partner with, who can build a prototype to get that idea across and demonstrate it in a more clear way,” Tebbe said.

“When you’re working on a product, it’s always nice to have something that people can look, see and touch.”

Although Chicago has suffered some losses in manufacturing, those losses have not been nearly as great as those suffered by other major cities, Tebbe said. Manufacturing remains important to Chicago, employing about 400,000 people, he said.

The concept of helping companies move from prototype to product is not new.

Since 2014, Catalyze Chicago has helped 50 companies launch nearly 60 successful products now generating $57 million in combined revenue. Those companies have collectively raised $21 million and filed applications for more than 80 patents.

The new mHUB will offer an “expanded mission to build connections between entrepreneurs and manufacturers.”

Catalyze founder Bill Fienup will serve as managing director of the new innovation center. The mHUB board is joining with Catalyze Chicago.

Haven Allen, a former strategist for World Business Chicago specializing in manufacturing, will serve as executive director of mHUB.

The new innovation center was helped along by World Business Chicago’s Advisory Council for Chicagoland Manufacturing. Community partners include UI Labs, the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, the Illinois Science Technology Coalition and Catalyze Chicago.

Fienup said he hopes to remove the formidable impediments he encountered four years ago after quitting his job to become an entrepreneur.

“It was such a struggle to develop a physical product without all of the resources that I left behind,” Fienup said. “I lacked access to equipment, to mentors, to manufacturing connections . . . . I wasn’t the only one who was struggling. A year later, six of us came together and founded Catalyze Chicago. That was our solution.”