Chicago is the 21st Century Motown of Startups

By August 17, 2010

January 12, 1959: Berry Gordy founds Motown Records at 2648 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit and arrogantly puts a sign above the window that reads, “Hitsville U.S.A.” He had no customers and no stars- just a small home and a dream. He goes on to turn that sign into reality and to create a record company that changes music in America forever. An entrepreneur to his core, Gordy had guts, determination and a belief no one and nothing could stop him. The music that resulted changed people’s lives and the direction of music in America forever.

August 16, 2010: I attend a small invite only event of Chicago entrepreneurs at 314 W. Institute Place, Chicago. The small gathering was hosted by Jeb Ory and Kilton Hopkins, co-founders of The App House. What transpired was nothing less than catching lightning in a bottle Motown style as I had a first hand look at several companies that are literally going to change the Internet and the Mobile App space in major, earth shaking fashion. I have worked for startups and I have seen startups come and go. I can spot hype and B.S. a mile away and can confidently predict I was in the room with someone that is going to create a $100 million dollar company (if not more than one).

I arrived at 6:30 for the event (it started at 7) and was let into the 3rd floor by the property owner Troy Durst. Durst leases out this floor in small parcels as an incubator space and the all along the North wall small frosted cubicles contain one or two desks of entrepreneurs leasing a few square feet of space to chase their dream. The east wall has a large, oversize window that faces the El tracks across the street and every five minutes or so a long train would silently glide by full of workers illuminated by the interior light of the train on their way home to dinner and sleep. For the small group gathered here, the real work was about to begin.

I truly wish I could reveal the businesses being planned. In an upcoming post I am going to write about The App House and their business model and why I believe it to be the future of development in the mobile space- calling it the Motown of App development is not hype or being disingenuous. When the entrepreneurs in attendance launch their new ventures you will read about them here first.

As cocktails were sipped, frozen taquitos with blue corn chips and salsa were munched upon as we had the pleasure of listening to five different startups pitch their idea to the small group in attendance and we dissected their business plans, offered advice and decided whether or not their ideas had merit.

The app ideas being considered were truly ground shaking and the entrepreneurs ranged in age but were united by their belief that they had the idea to change the way we all live, work and play. Many of you reading this will no doubt think to yourself that you have also heard great ideas but the secret sauce of TAH is that they have the ability and know how to execute and make these plans come to life.

The industries represented by these ideas covered the environment, workplace efficiency, group knowledge, finance and micro-payments. Some ideas were more fleshed out than others but as the group dissected and discussed it became clear there were no duds in the bunch. The excitement in the room was palpable and I don’t think I had seen such a free flow of ideas and creativity to this degree in Chicago yet. The entrepreneurs in attendance were on their game and shared their ideas freely in true entrepreneurial style trusting that the input of like-minded people in the room would be good for all.

Today’s post for Flyover Country may be short on details and long on half descriptions but I made the visionaries gathered promise that they would allow FG to cover their launches first when they are ready.

With all that entrepreneurs go through in Flyover Country to bring their ideas to fruition working crazy hours and having to believe in themselves when no one else does it was a true pleasure to be among like minded individuals and see the future taking place in front of my eyes.

Chicago and the rest of Flyover Country is sorely in need of companies like TAH and the entrepreneurs in attendance- visionary ideas meeting with people that can execute and I am proud to see Chicago come together in this way.

Stay tuned to this space- there are some great things coming your way Flyover Geeks- ideas that are going to spread nationwide and solidify Chicago’s role as Silicon City.