february 1, 2016

Creator Magazine

Which Chicago neighborhoods are best for startups?

Unlike every other major city in the country, Chicago doesn’t claim to be a “tech capital” just because it has a steady flow of deep-pocketed investors and a huge number of high-flying startups. Sure, it’s the home base for powerhouses like Groupon, GrubHub and SpotHero, and up-and-comers like Avant, Civis Analytics, Kapow, and Uptake. And it adds thousands of new tech jobs each year.

But Chicago doesn’t like to brag.

The Windy City is attracting lots of new businesses, especially around Merchandise Mart in River North and Fulton Market in the West Loop. CBRE, a commercial real estate company, reported that in the third quarter of 2015 office space is increasingly harder to come by as businesses, many of them newly minted startups, move into these and other areas.

So where are all these startups locating? You can’t pin it down to just one part of the city, since much of the downtown area, and even some of the outlying areas, are extremely popular with young founders. But our number crunching reveals these five neighborhoods as the most appealing places to launch a startup.

Cross-checking data on startups from sources like AngelList and BuiltInChicago, we counted the number of startups and collaborative workspaces in each neighborhood. Then, we factored in the average cost of office space per square foot and ranked the neighborhood according to its overall desirability for newly founded businesses.

1. West Loop

Number of startups: 272
Collaborative workspaces: 33
Office space per square foot: $23

The Near North Side may attract a larger number of startups and the Loop may have more collaborative workspaces, but the much cheaper price of office space makes the West Loop an extremely desirable landing spot for scrappy young companies.

Google, Uber, and Twitter all have offices in the heart of the West Loop, which is the name for a huge swath of the city west of the central business district. The once-gritty factories and warehouses are being rapidly redeveloped into commercial and residential spaces. The neighborhood attracts startups in categories like digital marketing and advertising, data analysis, and app development.

Still known to locals as the “meatpacking district,” the West Loop has the second highest number of collaborative workspaces in the city. And these spaces are incredibly varied—you can enjoy the casual ambience at WeWork Fulton Market or even gather for a meeting after taking on the indoor climbing walls at Brooklyn Boulders.

The West Loop has galleries galore and some of the city’s trendiest lofts and condos. The neighborhood is the epicenter for music and beer festivals, food tastings, and the top-ranked restaurants like The Publican and Girl & the Goat.

Getting to and from the rest of the city is a snap. Three L lines—Blue, Green, and Pink—have a total of seven stations in the West Loop. Union Station and Ogilvie, two Metra suburban line stations, are also nearby.

2. The Loop

Number of startups: 178
Collaborative workspaces: 39
Office space per square foot: $27

With the city’s largest number of collaborative workspaces, the Loop is a magnet for startups. Real estate prices are more expensive than the West Loop, so we ranked it second on our list.

In the middle of the map, the Loop’s status as the city’s central business district means that it has a buttoned-up feel. After all, it’s home to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Hyatt Hotels, and dozens of other major corporations. But don’t let all the suits fool you. Take a look at the young companies packed into the collaborative workspaces, including WeWork Grant Park and more than three dozen others. You’ll find some of the fastest growing startups at work nearby, including Raise and Narrative Science. It’s also home to GrubHub, the homegrown startup that had its initial public offering in 2014.

If you’re looking for adventure, climb to the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower and walk out onto the glass skydeck. If you get hungry after this workout, you can grab a bite at Max’s, a quick walk from the Art Institute of Chicago. We’d recommend ordering the jumbo chili dog, gyro cheeseburger, and Italian beef sandwich and splitting them with a friend. Afterwards, take a walk through Millennium Park and snap a photo of your reflection in front of the polished, mirrored, bean-shaped sculpture at AT&T Plaza. We call it The Bean.

There’s more than one way to get to the neighborhood. There are 38 stations along the seven L lines running through the Loop, including the Red, Brown, Green, Pink, Purple, Blue, and Orange lines. The LaSalle, Millennium, and Van Buren Metra train stations are here, too.

3. Near North Side

Number of startups: 437
Collaborative workspaces: 31
Office space per square foot: $32

The Near North Side has, by far, the highest number of startups in the area. It also has significantly higher rents than some of its neighbors, and the vacancy rate of 8.9 percent is the lowest in the city. That means finding the right space for any business can be tough. On the other hand, the Near North Side has nearly as many options for collaborative workspaces as the West Loop and the Loop, including WeWork River North.

Referred to as “Silicon Railway,” the Near North Side is the second largest business district in Chicago. The hottest part of this area, one that screams “tech hub,” is River North. Merchandise Mart is definitely where it’s at. This area has the city’s highest density of startups, most of which focus on software, e-commerce, and consumer web and business-to-business services. Uptake, ContextMedia, and SMS Assist are the fastest growing startups in the area, with Echo Global Logistics, GoHealth, and Trunk Club employing the most people.

But the Near North Side wasn’t always the place where geeks gathered. River North started out as an industrial area, then was transformed into a warehouse district. When the warehouses closed, the area attracted artists and writers looking for inexpensive loft and studio spaces in the vast empty buildings. It’s still home to one of the city’s largest collection of galleries. You can pick up paintings, antique furnishings, and even elegant chandeliers dating back to the 16th century here, as well as the latest fashions at boutiques catering to men and women.

Known for architectural standouts like the twin corn cobs of Marina City and 330 North Wabash, a colossal steel-and-glass beauty by Mies van der Rohe, the culture of River North is very much centered around the high life: fine dining and entertainment.

Three L lines—Red, Purple, and Brown—have 13 stations in the area.

 4. West Town

Number of startups: 116
Collaborative workspaces: 15
Office space per square foot: $19

Northwest of the Loop, the West Town area includes a cluster of district neighborhoods, including Ukrainian Village, Noble Square, Logan Square, Bucktown, Wicker Park, River West, and Humboldt Park. Today, the neighborhood is known for its Bohemian feel, which attracts artists and musicians.

Some of the city’s fastest-growing digital companies—Inxpo, WyzAnt, and Coyote Logistics—are based here. It attracts crowdfunding app developers, organic food providers like Eat Purely, and sports-related startups like SportsLock and Spikeball, which was featured on ABC’s TV show Shark Tank. Office space is cheaper here, which appeals to companies with big ambitions, if not big bottom lines.

Logan Square has some of the area’s favorite eateries, like 90 Miles Cuban Café, Bang Bang Pie Shop, and Lula Café. The L train’s blue line has three stops in the neighborhood.

5. North Side and Far North Side

Number of startups: 136
Collaborative workspaces: 3
Office space per square foot: $22.50

With affordable office space, the North Side and Far North Side host a growing number of startups. These next-door neighbors include the bustling communities of Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Lakeview, North Center, Uptown, Edgewater, and Avondale. It attracts software companies like Fibroblast, which matches people with jobs, and web services providers like Kauzu.

Lincoln Park is home to one of the youngest startup founders in Chicago: Samuel Lurye, a 16-year-old entrepreneur who founded Social Synergy Media and got accepted into the Chicago-based accelerator Catapult. His first product under his startup is Kiss, a dating app. If a high schooler can find a community of supportive investors for his startup, so can you.

If you’re a sports fan or outdoorsy type, this is the perfect area for you. The prominent landmarks in the area include Wrigley Field, which is the home of the Chicago Cubs, and Lincoln Park Zoo.

Three L lines—Brown, Purple, and Red—make a total of 15 stops through this neighborhood. The best restaurants, at least in our opinion, are m.henry, Del Seoul, and Butcher & The Burger.


april 24, 2016

Creator Magazine

New York Entrepreneurs Forge Bonds with Korean Millennials

During the five years David and Charlotte Cho lived in South Korea, friends and family were always asking them to bring back their favorite beauty products when they visited California. Turns out they loved the local brands, but couldn’t find them anywhere they shopped in the U.S.

Surprised that no entrepreneur had hit upon the idea of importing the sought-after skincare lines, the Chos founded Soko Glam in Seoul but focused on the U.S. market. Their company immediately took off, garnering great reviews in fashion magazines like Allure and Marie Claire.

Charlotte eventually quit her job at Samsung in Seoul, David finished his service in the U.S. Army, and they moved to New York City in 2013 to focus on gaining traction for their startup.

As they talked with more people, it turned out that starting a company is still considered to be a risky move in South Korea. Things are slowly changing, but the mindset is that it’s a safer bet to get a good job at an established corporation.

So the Chos decided to encourage would-be entrepreneurs by providing internships for college students born in Korea. David Cho says he emphasizes that they’re going to get hands-on experience.

“I tell them, ‘You’re not going to come here and make coffee and print copies,’” Cho says. “‘You’re going to do real work. I want to give you a real startup experience.’”

Cho, a WeWork NoMad member, recalls a conversation he had with a few of his interns in their early twenties. They said they couldn’t join a startup because they’d never be able to get married.

“They care so much about what job they’re going to have,” Cho says. “Not for the title, but because they think, ‘I want to get married. I can’t get a proper girlfriend if I don’t have a job. Nobody is going to marry me if I don’t have money to get an apartment.’”

The positive feedback he’s received from interns is enough to keep them reaching out to the younger generation in Seoul. It’s an eye-opening experience for them because most had never worked at a startup.

Cho’s advice is simple: “Bottle up that feeling when you go back to Korea.”

Building bridges

Other entrepreneurs are also building bridges between Seoul and New York City. Young Kim’s startup Kicea, which has space in WeWork Times Square, provides internships and skills training for students in Korea.

The program aims to give Koreans a sense of the U.S. job market, even if they end up working for a multinational corporation in Seoul. He says it’s a struggle to try to break out of the mold when you’re a millennial in South Korea.

“Many students want to get a job at a conglomerate in Korea because of safety and security, but I want to expand their horizon in terms of professionalism,” he says. “I don’t want them to be dedicated to just getting a job at a conglomerate. I think Kicea could help them open their eyes.”

Seoul-born MJ Kim, founder of 3Claps, a fashion-forward children’s clothing company, says many older Koreans are still wary about their children striking out on their own.

“My father’s generation had a bad image of startups because they see having investors as losing shares,” he says. “But what they didn’t understand is you’ve got to give up something to grow to the next level. Korean startups are starting to understand that.”

Kim says it helps that government programs are popping up that promote newly launched businesses.

“The Korean government is pushing a policy of changjo gyungjae, or ‘creative economy,’ that puts money towards entrepreneurs who are starting creative businesses,” he says.

South Korea’s startup culture is still less than a decade old, points out Sang Lee, founder of DarcMatter, a technology platform for asset managers. As salaries at startups have risen, parental pressure to take more secure jobs at established companies has diminished.

“A broader stigma of being in a startup has been lifted, and the lifting occurred because more startups can pay close to market salaries in Korea,” Lee says. “Five years ago, it was pretty much impossible for Korean startups beyond co-founders to survive without pay.”

What also helps foster camaraderie in South Korea’s startup scene is removing the emphasis on traditional work hierarchies and instead focusing on being part of a team.

“I always tell Koreans they should get rid of titles at companies,” says Lee, a WeWork Chelsea member. “In Korea, people think CEO and founders are very important, but a lot less emphasis is placed on how important the team really is.”


december 1, 2016

Creator Magazine

At Schoolyard Farms, students get their hands dirty and learn to eat right

Growing up in a rural part of Chico, California, Courtney Leeds was surrounded by fertilizer and gardening tools. Her father grew walnuts and almonds, but she never thought she’d follow in his footsteps.

“I kind of rebelled from it and wanted to be in the city,” says Leeds, co-founder of Schoolyard Farms. “But once I started working in the corporate sector, I was disillusioned by it. It didn’t bring me the satisfaction I was looking for.”

After college, she worked at a corporation in San Francisco doing qualitative research on market trends and organizing focus groups. When the recession hit in 2008, the company shut down, giving her an opportunity to rethink her future. She started apprenticing for a San Francisco farm called Little City Gardens.

“It was an inspiring and motivating experience watching two young women just a few years older than me figure out how to repurpose land in that city, develop land use agreements, and build a community around pieces of land,” says Leeds.

Then she had an opportunity to work with Zenger Farm in Portland and learn more about urban farming. That led to forming her own nonprofit with Justin Davidson, a farmer who also apprenticed at Zenger Farm.

Realizing the sincere joy she finds in being outdoors, working with her hands, and teaching kids about where fruits and vegetables come from, the duo launched Schoolyard Farms in 2012. The business has since partnered with two schools: Candy Lane Elementary and New Urban High School, both in Milwaukie, Oregon, a 20-minute drive from downtown Portland.

Though Leeds is now a solopreneur, she says partnerships with school administrators, teachers, and neighbors have been vital to funding her nonprofit.

“The elementary school has lessons that are structured and connect back to the classroom,” Leeds says. “The goal is to teach kids about where food comes from, how to grow it, and why it’s important to grow it. At the high school, we encourage kids to know how to grow food and have them work in the garden and get community service hours, which get credited towards graduation.”

Schoolyard Farms recently launched a tasting program for students to enjoy. During each month of the school year, they’ll sample recipes made with locally grown fruits and vegetables that they can easily replicate at home.

Over the summer, Schoolyard Farms offers a host of activities for kids from first to sixth grades. For a week, they get a chance to watch chefs in the kitchen, study bugs in an ecology track, and make green houses.

During the fall, Schoolyard Farms hosts its annual Farm to Table Dinner, which attracts the public to see up-and-coming local chefs prepare rustic dishes using mostly the produce that comes from the plots of land harvested by Schoolyard Farms.

“We’ve grown at a good, steady pace,” says Leeds, a WeWork Custom House member. “We haven’t grown too fast too soon, yet we have taken advantage of all the momentum from the community and pushed ourselves. Slow and sustainable is the way to go.”