I could feel the ghosts of Montgomery Ward’s couriers on roller skates from a century ago in the million square foot building as I walked down the stairwell of 600 W. Chicago last week. You can still see the octagonal columns in the world’s largest (in 1908 when it was opened) reinforced concrete building. Here Ward’s booming catalog business thrived and kept barges filled on the adjoining North Branch of the Chicago river. We have come a long way from that.
We have also come far from the 1970s where nearby the Cabrini-Green projects had rooftop snipers and became an icon of urban decay.
We have similarly come a long way from W. Randolph Street, a mile away where Brian Sommer and I did a startup in 2000. We took a lot of ribbing back then for locating a tech company so far from Silicon Valley.
600 W. Chicago today is the hub of a bustling Chicago tech scene and much of the credit goes to Brad Keywell and Eric Lefkofsky who founded and took Groupon public and their venture fund Lightbank, now led by Victor Pascucci III.
While we were in town for a briefing by Uptake, the industrial IoT analytics company Brad founded (see my notes here), we also got a tour of the building and saw the insides of Tempus Eric founded, which is building a huge library of molecular and clinical data to be used to fight cancer and other diseases, and their companies, Echo Global Logistics, a digital 3PL, MediaOcean which supports digital agencies, and heard about a variety of philanthropic activities which also benefit the Chicago tech scene.
I found myself humming to Led Zeppelin as I walked away
“I am a traveler of both time and space…..To be where I have been”.
Not many Valley folks make snide comments about the Chicago tech scene anymore.
Credit for Photos 3 and 6 - Dion Hinchcliffe