The Making of mHUB: A WBC Fellowship Story
World Business Chicago Fellows help build Chicago’s manufacturing hub
mHUB Chicago’s first manufacturing and innovation hub focused on business and product development, will celebrate the grand opening of its 63,000 square-foot facility at 965 West Chicago Avenue this week. mHUB began after World Business Chicago (WBC) convened an advisory council of manufacturing leaders to support the mayor’s regional Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs. The council was tasked with charting a course toward the next great era of Chicagoland manufacturing, and determined that an advanced manufacturing incubator would be a critical component to maintaining Chicago’s leadership in product innovation.
The council partnered with Catalyze Chicago to reinforce mHUB’s mission to create a vibrant, inventive community that would create breakthrough products and boost the local economy. Catalyze was chosen based on its track record as a successful product development incubator.
mHUB fosters connections between local manufacturers, university researchers, the city’s entrepreneurial community of makers and technologists, and those who are eager to support new businesses. By galvanizing these connections, mHUB ensures that the Midwest region’s manufacturing industry continues to grow, lead, and reduce the cost and barriers to entry for physical product innovation.
WBC Fellows have impacted mHub throughout its conceptualization, development, planning, and strategy. Without the WBC Fellows lending their skills and talents to build mHUB, it would not be where it stands today: poised to transform the manufacturing community and to make Chicago thrive as a leading advanced manufacturing hub.
WBC Fellows are carefully selected from partners who offer mid-level executives to serve in one of WBC’s strategic project areas for four to six months. Numerous talented fellows supported, and continue to support, the development and implementation of WBC initiatives. Below is the story of how WBC Fellows have advanced mHub.
(View timeline of Fellow contributions to mHub)
Madison Dearborn Partners
Madison Dearborn Partners, a private equity firm based in Chicago, was the first company to offer a fellow and support mHUB’s initial growth. Zuhair Khan played a critical role as mHUB was being conceptualized and conceived. He developed a robust financial model which reflected the various scenarios WBC and Catalyze Chicago were considering at the time. As it became clear that Catalyze had significant potential as part of a larger project to further manufacturing entrepreneurship and innovation, Khan and Haven Allen (Executive Director of mHUB) drafted the memorandum to make the case for a large-scale manufacturing hub in Chicago.
As the second fellow to support the mHUB project, Oren Schumaker assisted with schematic space planning, program evaluation, coordinating preliminary cost estimates and real estate analysis. His background as an architect at Gensler provided the necessary skills to contribute to the layout and planning of the space, an invaluable asset in the growth of the mHUB project. “It feels amazing to have been able to contribute my skills to Chicago’s newest manufacturing accelerator,” Shumaker said.
James Marsh of the PrivateBank served as a Fellow for mHUB in early 2015. He and Haven Allen had in-depth discussions on a daily basis on how to create the most collaborative manufacturing business incubator and co-working space by working with the manufacturing ecosystem. Marsh describes his overall experience in the WBC Fellowship program as one that “took me outside of my comfort zone and changed my approach to business.”
Bit by bit, an innovation center and co-working community of physical product developers, designers, entrepreneurs, and manufacturers, was coming together. Manas Mehendru, formerly of Underwriters Laboratories (UL), was one WBC Fellow that helped connect several pieces of the mHUB puzzle. “mHUB was a well thought out concept when I started,” Mehendru explains. “With some initial plans, concepts and partnerships defined, I was responsible for putting it together into a robust business plan with a clear strategy.”
While developing this strategy and identifying strategic partnerships, Mehendru was able to gather valuable insight into Chicago’s professional community, while contributing to the broader mHUB mission. “The fellowship provided me a platform to be challenged and mentored by some of Chicago’s best and brightest leaders,” Mehendru said. “It gave me the opportunity to not only place my own stamp on a project that will impact the region’s economy but also learn from my peer fellows and the fellows who followed me adding their own impressive perspectives.”
September 2015-March 2016
John Busch finalized the business plan and executive summary, which moved the project closer to the execution and fundraising phase. “Immediately, we began to see partnership interests from more than 60 local organizations… from major universities, research laboratories, nonprofits, investors, small and large companies, and most importantly, the entrepreneurs whom we needed to grow the physical product innovation community. Now that mHUB has officially launched, I can say I’m quite optimistic in seeing how Chicago’s technology sector as a whole will mature over the years.”
September 2015-February 2016
“My goal was to bring together two somewhat disparate communities: manufacturers and entrepreneurs,” notes Sally Delehant, a former marketing coordinator at Avison Young, who moved on to become marketing manager for mHUB. By creating a robust programming schedule (including maker competitions, open houses, workshops, and more), Delehant helped promote the mHUB brand to a broader audience. “It was important that we highlighted the accessibility of the space and abundance of available resources,” she explains. “The key to ensuring membership growth was to convey that although the space is unique and cutting edge, it is also for all kinds of makers who want to develop their products.”
The first Fellow of 2016, Dipti Ravichandran, coordinated corporate partnership planning that eventually laid the foundation for mHUB’s day-to-day operations. This includes creating pro-forma statements to membership structures and the space layout. “It was truly fascinating to see leaders from various related fields from across our city, roll up their sleeves and work alongside us; in this joint and laser-focused mission that morphed into our awe-inspiring, creativity induced, technology advancing, innovation center that we proudly call mHub,” said Ravichandran. “I am honored to have played my small part in this, and look forward to the magic it will create in the years to come.”
“I was tasked with updating and building out a financial model for the board of directors, which eventually became the backbone for mHUB as it was used in every financial decision from signing a lease to budgeting out our cash run rate over the life of the lease,” recounts Michael Welton, the eighth Fellow to contribute to the mHUB project. Welton describes himself and his work in mHUB as a Swiss Army Knife, working on diverse projects such as a federal grant proposal, the creation of a CRM, and operational work. “This experience has really opened my eyes in a lot of ways. For one, launching a new business is absolutely as challenging as it sounds. For another, the start-up community around Chicago is inspiring to witness in person and I truly believe it will play a huge part in Chicago’s success for the future.”
BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois
September 2016-March 2017
mHUB’s most recent Fellow, Katie Cangemi, is working with the mHUB team to design strategic community engagement, education, and mentorship programs that ensure access to mHUB, attracts a diverse member population, and promotes economic inclusivity. “Building off the manufacturing history in Chicago, combined with the entrepreneurial energy that was born out of Catalyze, mHUB is uniquely poised to establish Chicago as a global leader in product development innovation and productivity,” explains Cangemi.
While their roles concentrated on different aspects of the mHUB equation, each found their fellowship to be an opportunity dominated by personal and professional growth. After moving back to their companies, the Fellows have a new perspective on creating jobs and fostering economic growth –– and their role in helping to create an even better Chicago.
Described by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the “final piece of the manufacturing puzzle,” mHUB attributes its success to date to the hard work, dedication, and persistence of many contributors. The Fellows, many now over a year removed from their fellowship, can see their own imprint on a project that is captivating a community, and serving the lives of others along the way.
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