-By Tara García Mathewson-
In 2017, every business should be considered a tech business. Entrepreneurs who do not take advantage of technology to increase efficiency or expand their impact are missing out.
At least that has become conventional wisdom in the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and at 1871, Chicago’s hub for digital technology startups and entrepreneurs.
The two organizations have partnered for the last few years and in February 2016, they took their relationship to the next level when the IHCC moved its offices to 1871’s newly expanded space in the Merchandise Mart.
One year later, Omar Duque, president and CEO of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the colocation has positioned the IHCC to more deliberately diversify the tech scene in Chicago and give more Latino-owned businesses access to the resources at 1871.
The new generation of Latino entrepreneurs already looks to technology when developing business ideas. But Duque said the new focus for IHCC is also important for the entrepreneurs who were founding members of the chamber in 1990.
“Even if you’ve been in business for 30 years or 50 years, if you’re not thinking about leveraging technology to grow or thinking about ways you can be more innovative in your approach in your industry, you’re not going to go very far,” Duque said.
A cohort of 12 tech companies is wrapping up its time in the IHCC’s inaugural joint Hispanic incubator program, where each entrepreneur received mentorship and tailored programming to support their fledgling businesses.
Paladin, a platform for attorneys, law schools and firms to source, track and manage pro bono cases, has already closed pre-seed funding from angel investors. They’ve onboarded over 1,000 users since officially launching in January, and have already connected a number of lawyers with pro bono clients..
Another company, Licentiam, streamlines and digitizes the medical licensing process and makes it possible for regulatory bodies to communicate across state lines. This makes it possible to easily find out, for the first time, whether a doctor lost his or her license in another state and why. The incubator program helped Licentiam raise $150,000 to build out their technology and Duque said the company is getting a lot of attention from other funders.
The long-term goal for the incubator, which will be accepting applications for its second cohort by March, is to be the go-to spot for Latino tech entrepreneurs.
“We want to get to a place where if you’re in Austin, TX, or Tampa, FL, or Seattle, WA, and you’re Latino and you’re starting up a tech company that has a lot of potential, we want people to say if you’re really serious and you want to do this, you have to go to Chicago and be at IHCC,” Duque said.
Already, entrepreneurs moved from Mexico City and Washington, D.C., to participate in the first cohort. Programming for the second cohort will begin in May and run for 12 weeks.
Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871, said incubator programs are one way 1871 has focused specifically on increasing inclusiveness and diversity within its startup population. The nonprofit has a good number of women-owned businesses, but it continues to explore ways to increase opportunities for Latino-owned businesses.
Like Duque, Tullman says Latino entrepreneurs need to pay more attention to technologies that can help them grow. Tech tools can be user-friendly and easy to understand. And all the software supports multilingual users.
“It’s not even a question of understanding the language or the tools,” Tullman said. “They just have to get started. They have to make a commitment.”
1871 works to expand access to these technologies, especially those that are relatively inexpensive.
With IHCC inside of 1871, longtime members can also benefit from a simple walk through the building. Duque said Latino business-owners have passed by 1871 entrepreneurs on their way to the IHCC offices and garnered important insights and ideas about how to incorporate technology into their own businesses.
Seeing peers in the same industry doing things completely differently can be an eye-opener – and one that is now possible because IHCC is embedded in Chicago’s center of entrepreneurial activity.