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10 Best Chicago Business Incubators to Scale Your Startup

So, you’re ready to grow. You want to take your Chicago-based business to the next level. You’ve already got the motivation and a strong foundation, but you may need expert advice or capital. Where should you turn? How can you get the support you need to grow your company?

If you aren’t sure what steps to take next, seeking the help of a local business incubator is probably the next right move. Let’s explore your top options.

Here, you’ll uncover:

  • Roles and functions of a business incubator
  • Chicago’s top business incubators
  • What makes each company stand out

Read on to take the next step in your business incubation process.

First, What Does a Business Incubator Do?

Incubators serve as energizers for local, regional, or national economic improvement. The role of business incubators is to help startups grow by providing resources like business development training or office space. So, they help the economy by helping early to growth-stage businesses.

Incubators are typically privately-held, but some programs are government-backed. And, while some provide general services to businesses, others are specialized (ex: woman, minority, or veteran-owned, tech-centered). So, just because a company can help you doesn’t mean it’s services are right for your situation. You need to be picky.

How Do Incubators Help Startups?

Incubators help startups with various tools and resources at different stages of incubation. These resources might include tools, services, or capital.

  • Business coaching or training
  • Access to office space
  • Connection to funding sources
  • Introduction to a helpful network
  • New tactic and strategy establishment

In a nutshell, incubators can help early-stage startups with what they might need to move forward to the next phase of growth.

Do Incubators Provide Funding?

Startups can choose from several business incubator models. Some may offer direct funding, and some connect companies with venture capital (VC) or other investment opportunities. Typically, direct funding isn’t available through an incubator, but they can help you with guidance and access to funds.

How Much Do Business Incubators Cost?

Depending on the structure of the company, you may not pay anything upfront for incubation services. Or, incubation might be offered as a supplement to another service. The cost to you will vary, but the price should always be offset by an increase in revenue and/or business capital.

For example, you may pay a monthly fee for a membership or space rental within a facility set up for networking and incubation. In exchange, you will receive expert counsel or mentorship that helps you scale your company and reach your goals.

And, in some cases, incubators earn money from equity or commissions on VC or other types of business fundraising. So, if you step into the arena without anything tangible to give, an incubator might walk away with a profit after helping you access new funding.

Now, These are the Top Business Incubators in Chicago

To find the growth you want for your business, you should enlist assistance from experts. But, which sources are trustworthy? Here are some of the most reliable and supportive networks you’ll find in Chicago.

1.Workbox

Workbox is a business incubator network that you might want to turn to if you’re looking for a system created for founders who are beyond the minimum viable product stage. Many of the above resources can provide you with exceptional educational resources. And, some even have office space for in-person collaboration.

But, at Workbox, you will get hands-on help with finances, operations, and mentorship. Worbox focuses primarily on bootstrapped to series-A companies and offers more advanced programming to get founders connecting with other founders, investors, and strategic leaders than other established incubators and accelerators in Chicago.

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2. TechNexus

TechNexus is a Chicago-based venture collaborative for tech startups. The operations are piloted by a team of entrepreneurs, corporate innovation executives, and venture capitalists. They offer strategy and alignment, venturing, incubation, and acceleration.

If you look at TechNexus’ portfolio, you will see that they’ve helped several leading Chicago tech companies obtain collaboration capital.

  • CatchCo
  • Gather Voices
  • HAAS Alert
  • Hologram
  • Mesh++
  • Ocient
  • SweatWorking
  • SwiftIQ (acquired by PDI)
  • Synap (acquired by Imagineer)

If your business involves tech related to computer software, health/wellness/fitness, industrial automation, maritime, media production, or public safety, the team at TechNexus might be the right group to work with.

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3. 1871

1871 is dedicated to helping startups and founders navigate the seas of business growth. And, 1871’s corporate partners are impressive, to say the least. They work with big brands like McDonald’s, Apple, Microsoft, several universities, and more. So, it’s no surprise that 1871 alumni have collectively raised $1.5BN to fund their companies.

The brand is also affiliated with the Illinois Technology Association (ITA), dedicated to the local tech community and tech companies statewide.

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4. mHUB

mHUB is a membership-based robotics product incubator that helps startups grow cutting-edge, innovative ideas into successful ventures. They start working with businesses as early as during the prototype-phase. Their members have raised about $104M so far and have access to a prototyping lab and community that includes product designers.

Furthermore, they partner with some pretty big names like Chase, Autodesk, and Bank of America. So mHUB provides great opportunities for early-stage founders to connect with leading finance and engineering tech brands.

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5. Matter

Matter is a healthcare innovation incubator that brings startup founders into a community of health systems, industry executives, entrepreneurs, and investors. If your brand is medicine-related and has a meaningful impact, you might want to look into joining the Matter community.

Right now, they’re working with 200+ startups and 60+ corporate partners like Blue Cross Blue Shield, Merck, Comcast, and others that could help take your company to the next stage of growth.

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6. Catapult Chicago

Catapult Chicago Business Incubator

Catapult Chicago is well-known in Chicago and a couple of their companies were featured on Shark Tank. Members have raised $380M in funding so far and 88% of the startups are now operational or have been acquired. In addition, they offer coworking office space, which is a nice perk.

The coworking space offers the benefits of cleaning, gym access, unlimited coffee and WiFi, gaming, and more. And, the best part is you can connect with others who might help you scale your company.

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7. TechStars

TechStars is one of the fastest-growing business networks in the United States. Their Chicago location has everything an early-stage startup needs to scale their venture. The program cultivates leadership, accelerates innovation, and aims to retain and develop talent for companies that want to scale.

Innovation Bootcamp is a powerful system, facilitated by TechStars, for startups to bring their own teams in and discover solutions to the most relevant and urgent problems your business might face. At the end of the program, teams can pitch their solutions to some of TechStars’ established experts.

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8. 2112

2112 is a Chicago incubator focused solely on music, film, video, and creative tech startups and entrepreneurs. They partner with Apple, Women in Music, Sweetwater Music Instruments & Pro Audio, and others who can help you with the next stage of growth.

So, if your product, idea, or business falls into one of the categories above, 2112 could provide the kickstart you need. The company is all about collaboration and hosts several events throughout the year to teach new skills like album cover art, generating more revenue, and more.

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9. BunkerLabs

Bunker Labs focuses on veteran-owned businesses. So, they have expertise in the funding programs and other resources that are available only for founders that have served in the armed forces. If that sounds like you, this might be the first network you try to join.

They offer specific programs based on your stage in business:

  1. IdeaLaunch Lab Online is teaching idea-stage companies the tools they need to launch a business from the ground up, including creating a minimum viable product or prototype.
  2. IncubateVeterans in Residence is sharing a network, expertise, resources, and tools with existing veteran-owned companies who are ready to grow.
  3. GrowCEOCircle is continued support for ambitious veteran-owned companies that need more resources than those of earlier growth stages.

Determine which stage you’re at and find out what Bunker Labs has to offer.

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10. Women’s Business Center

Women’s Business Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping female entrepreneurs succeed in business. They offer resources, events, training, and certifications for founders and self-employed women nationwide. The Chicago branch focuses solely on local companies.

As a woman in business, you can access free business advising, help with planning, access to working capital, and even childcare business services among many other services. Be sure to find out what they might be able to help you with.

Final Thoughts

As a startup founder, you’ve taken the first steps on an exciting path. Be sure that the help you access when you’re ready to scale is dependable and proven. Work with experts that can connect you with the resources you need to reach your goals and discover areas where you need to make changes to your operations. To find out more about Workbox, schedule a tour today.

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