Tactical Advice

CDW Teams with Incubator 1871 to Support Chicago Startups

Large online reseller donates equipment, provides advice to fledgling businesses.
This story appears in the Fall 2012 issue of BizTech Magazine.
CDW Teams with Incubator 1871 to Support Chicago Startups
Matthew Furlong (left) and Erik Severinghaus (center) found a home with 1871, a startup incubator that Kevin Willer (right) helped found.
Credit: Todd Winters

All businesses, at essence, begin as startups.

Take CDW, for instance. What’s now a $9.8 billion corporation began as a modest one-man operation nearly 30 years ago out of Michael Krasny’s home.

Michael figured that PCs would be to productivity and communications what airplanes had become to transportation and business. And his passion for technology made the difference.

It’s that kind of passion and vision that makes supporting young business ventures part of the CDW corporate culture. We seek to nurture efforts built on innovative ideas.

One example is 1871, a Chicago incubator that formally opened its doors this past spring and now is home to about 100 digital startups.

Members pay between $125 and $400 per desk for month-to-month leases. This gives them access to educational seminars, business advisers, mentors and networking events.

Along with all these advisory tools, startup companies have access to conference rooms with projectors, 70-inch flat-screen TVs, printers, copiers, networking equipment and other essential office gear donated by CDW. This kind of support really makes a difference to startups. Office space alone in Chicago can stretch a small company’s budget, so having a place where they can receive technology services fairly inexpensively gives them a competitive advantage.

To learn more about this unique partnership, turn to our cover story, “Growth Spurt.”

More Than Money

Although donations are always welcome by startups, it’s the sharing of business expertise that’s often more valuable. That’s why CDW Sales Director Adam Weiss points out that our company is giving more than money when we support small businesses at 1871.

We also help startups determine the technology they’ll need when they move into their own spaces. The real goal is to help these new companies prepare for success on their own, perhaps even setting them up with potential customers.

“If we find leads for them, we’ll pass them along,” Weiss says. “What I really want to do is help these companies make it in business.”

CDW first became involved with 1871 through one of our account managers, ­Edgar Mendoza. He regularly attends startup events in and around Chicago. Knowing CDW’s history, he suggested that the incubator provided a way for us to support startups in our own backyard. CDW’s leaders and sales teams agreed that it was a worthwhile opportunity to give back to the community.

Kevin Willer, president and CEO of the nonprofit Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, which operates 1871, says CDW proved a logical partner for the incubator.

“The story of CDW is a great entrepreneurial story in the city of Chicago,” Willer says. “It’s great to see entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs. That’s what this is all about.”

There’s no question that most successful companies have had some help along the way. And given the expense of starting up a business today, the odds are tougher than ever that new companies will make it.

The National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) found that among companies that graduated from an incubator, 87 percent were still in business after 10 years.

Contrast that with the Small Business Administration finding that after four years, only 44 percent of startups remain in business. 1871 is fairly new, so it’s unrealistic to expect 87 percent success rates. But based on the NBIA number, it’s pretty clear that the incubator could have a significant long-term impact on the local and national economy.

The nation’s economic future depends on the creativity and drive of its entrepreneurs. The small business community can depend on CDW to help unleash the passions of these young executives.

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About the Author

Jill Billhorn

Jill Billhorn is vice president of small business at CDW.



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