Inside The Coolest Office In Chicago

Update: This story originally ran on June 21, 2012.
Just letting you know right now: Your entire office is about to feel a serious pang of envy, thanks to a place called 1871. It's the recently opened co-working space in the Merchandise Mart, managed by Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, that's got busy professionals in the tech world and beyond clamoring for the keys. The concept is simple genius: Your start-up company rents desks in a communal workspace filled with other start-up companies. It takes the pressure off opening your own HQ and lets you get professional in a much more productive environment than, say, your couch.
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In addition, the design of the building rules. So, click through to tour the coolest complex concept in Chicago, then get your brilliantidea.com on the waiting list for desk space, ASAP. This office is so awesome that there's actually a line to go in to work.
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Welcome to the offices of 1871.


Photographed by Julia Stotz
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This co-working space for digital startups is rapidly becoming the place to work for anyone developing the next big thing. We first chatted with Todd O'Hara and Casey Civiello of Toodalu, quite possibly the most effortless way to donate to charity, ever.

What made you want to work at 1871?
"1871 is the heart of the emerging Chicago tech scene. Toodalu was one of many companies vying to be included in the space and we knew that becoming a part of 1871 would give us instant credibility and access to the best and brightest advisors."




Photographed by Julia Stotz
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What are the advantages of working in this space, as opposed to working from home/a typical office?
"The positive energy in 1871 is infectious and we really benefit from the collaboration that naturally occurs within the space. On top of that, our association with 1871 gives Toodalu instant credibility when we go out into the community to share our product."

How have other startups working at 1871 inspired you?
"In general, working shoulder to shoulder with brilliant and dedicated people who are hungry to succeed provides an environment that is naturally going to produce results. More specifically, there are people and companies who have experience at every stage of the startup cycle and who are willing to share their thoughts with us."


Photographed by Julia Stotz
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Our tour through 1871 led us to the Excelerate Labs, a business accelerator program with offices inside of 1871. Mark Lawrence of Spothero shared his thoughts on the space.

How have other startups working at 1871 inspired you?
"There are too many to count. I love running into the Zyndeo guys Ben and John, and I'm inspired by the energy of working around all the Excelerate Labs companies in our space."

What are the advantages of working in this space, as opposed to working from home/a typical office?
"I can get so much done. I'm focused. There's an energy here with everyone around you. It makes you want to work harder."

What is the coolest perk about this office space?
"The scooters! There are scooters floating around which you can grab and "commute" to a meeting on the other side of the space or simply to the bathroom. Also can't forget about having an Intelligentsia coffee shop right inside the office!"


Photographed by Julia Stotz
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The in-house Intelligentsia at 1871. We're jealous too, it's okay.


Photographed by Julia Stotz
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Josh Liss and Steve Znavor of Soulseekr and WeClickd work at 1871's dining tables, made from repurposed bowling lanes. Behind them, a calendar of business workshops hosted by 1871.

What are the advantages of working in this space, as opposed to working from home/a typical office?
Josh: "I think the biggest advantage has been having incredible access to professionals in the space who come down to 1871 to discover people like us, and provide their valuable services in return. Having 'office hours' for example with experienced professionals is something I could not get anywhere else."

What made you want to work at 1871?
Steve: "I wanted to be more involved with the growing startup community in Chicago and also surround myself with others who are going against the grain and putting their life on hold to build things that they believe in."


Photographed by Julia Stotz
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How have other startups working at 1871 inspired you?
Steve: "As soon as you walk in you'll see everyone working pretty hard on building the next big thing. It's pretty great, there are plenty of people in other startups to talk to about problems and work out a creative solution because everyone has a interesting point of view."

Josh: "Learn from their mistakes, be inspired by what's been done well."


Photographed by Julia Stotz
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Alicia DiRago of Whimseybox takes a call on one of 1871's unbelievably comfy Fatboy bean bag chairs.

What are the advantages of working in this space, as opposed to working from home/a typical office?
"Prior to moving into 1871 our team of three worked mostly out of my house and the occasional restaurant or coffee shop. It is great to have a more professional and neutral territory to work from, but the best part is getting to know the other companies and people working here. There's nowhere else we would ever find so many people having similar experiences and facing similar challenges. It's great to be able to help each other out, commiserate when things aren't going well, and celebrate when they are."

What is the coolest perk about this office space? 
"Besides the people, one of the best things about 1871 is all of the events. There's something going on here almost every day so it's easy for me to stick around at night, have a beer and some pizza while learning or networking."


Photographed by Julia Stotz
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A communal workspace at 1871, against the backdrop of one of the space's three stunning murals.


Photographed by Julia Stotz
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A meeting room and quiet space.


Photographed by Julia Stotz
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Erica Bethe Levin and her team at Cheeky Chicago, hard at work.

What made you want to work at 1871?
"1871 is an entrepreneur's dream. We knew that 1871 would afford us the opportunity work next to some of the country's most inspiring business people, lawyers, investors, and professors. Knowing that we'd be part of a community supporting the growth of start-up businesses was a no-brainer for us as a four-year-old company looking to expand to a more national platform."

How have other startups working at 1871 inspired you?
"All of the companies at 1871 have a common goal: to build successful businesses. To see hundreds of people working on this everyday - heads in computers, meeting with CEOs, speaking to mentors - is the most inspiring thing."

What is the coolest perk about this office space? 
"The fact that we get to meet some of the most amazing business people, inventors, visionaries, and CEOs in the world. Since working here, I have met the CEO of Siri, J.B. Pritzker, the Global Brand Director of Facebook and - get this? - the British Prime Minister, David Cameron. He loved the name Cheeky."  


Photographed by Julia Stotz
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Cheeky Chicago set up a stylish, organized space at 1871.


Photographed by Julia Stotz
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How could you not be productive in a space like this?


Photographed by Julia Stotz
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If you're interested in renting space at 1871, get in touch, fast.


Photographed by Julia Stotz
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So much better than the "office fridge".


Photographed by Julia Stotz
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A tenant at 1871 bringing his "A" game.


Photographed by Julia Stotz
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