When mHub opened its doors in Chicago seven years ago, the vision was to create a traditional incubator for people who make things. It would involve a prototyping lab, offices, shared workspaces, meeting rooms and classrooms. In those seven years, the accelerator says it has supported more than 500 startups and 200 manufacturers, awarded about 450 patents and helped create about 4,000 jobs. Now it moves to one newly acquired, recently renovated space in an opportunity zone in Chicago to help it incubate, accelerate and support more startups that can have a positive impact on humanity. australiabusinessblog.com spoke with mHub CEO and co-founder Haven Allen to find out what’s next for mHub and why Chicago is its perfect home.
“It’s been quite a journey over the past six years; we’ve definitely evolved beyond just the incubator,” Allen said. “Today we have more than 250 startups. But we also have manufacturers and groups like Keurig here who are inventing the next Keurig machine from our facilities. It’s both very early stage, but some established companies are looking for that kind of place where they can come test and build on the latest, newest equipment, connect with investors and connect with talent to scale product sales .
From mHub’s perspective, it had greatly outgrown its current space, and the new center provides what the startups and innovators and developers need, in the perfect geographic location.
“We wanted to be in an opportunity zone so we could use that lead to raise more venture capital and bring it to the table,” Allen said. “We wanted to be in one of the factory districts and have access to public transportation. And this matches the Venn diagram just right.”
The new center in Chicago’s Near Westside at 240 N. Ashland was built to provide mHub with the facilities it needs to support the development it aims to foster.
“We will build more labs around energy technologies and specific test equipment, electronic equipment and new wet labs, more battery-related technologies,” Allen said. “In our current space, we don’t really have private offices except for some of our industrial partners who are embedded here. So we can support some of these growing teams as they need more space to build their teams and inventory.”
In addition to the physical facilities mHub provides, it also brings people together to help cultivate innovation and connection.
“We have 600 engineers here, which is an incredibly valuable resource for the startups in the manufacturing community,” said Allen. “So there’s a lot of contracting and collaboration that we’re facilitating between the startups, as well as outsourcing to industry for short-term R&D projects.”
As for Chicago itself, the combination of universities, diversified manufacturing economy, existing supply chain and easy access throughout the country makes it geographically ideal for an incubator like mHub and the startups it aims to attract.
“We’re looking for products and founders who are trying to create things that we think can impact humanity,” said Allen. “We really lean on climate, energy, medical devices and sustainable production, knowing that we clearly have climate problems. And there’s a lot of ways we’re going to solve it. Human behavior doesn’t seem to be the only way, so how can technology actually drive some of the progress we need?”
mHub supports startups through both its incubator and accelerator program. The incubator program is open to anyone out there to build a business and mHub believes it can support them. The accelerator selection process is stricter. It includes a selection committee of approximately 20 people drawn from investors, industry and people who have led manufacturing science at universities and national laboratories, and the ability to meet 19 factors. But the crucial criteria are the novelty of their ideas, their understanding of their markets, their teams and their willingness to be coached.
“We are bringing cohorts together around a theme partner with industry,” said Allen. “We give each of the teams $75,000 cash and $25,000 in engineering credits that they just have to use to advance their product. Then we provide them with hyper-resources for a six-month program, and then we keep them access to all labs and resources for two years.”
mHub is opens the next round for climate and energy focused startups on May 8.