Q/A with Haven Allen, Executive DirectormHUB


Incubators and coworking spaces like 1871 and MATTER coalesce Chicago’s digital/IT and healthtech startup communities, create jobs, and drive economic development. With the creation of the makerspace mHUB, Chicago’s manufacturing and product development community will also have a centralized location to meet, collaborate, and create.  mHUB’s creation is the result of coordination between many of the region’s most influential corporations, workforce development organizations, universities, and the City of Chicago. On the eve of mHUB’s grand opening on March 2nd, 2017, we sat down with Haven Allen – Executive Director of mHUB – to discuss how mHUB moved from idea to fruition, the services mHUB will provide to its members, and larger thoughts on the impact of makerspaces on the economy.


  1. What inspired the creation of mHUB? How has mHUB gone from idea to fruition, and what challenges does mHUB look to address?

mHUB began after World Business Chicago (WBC) convened an advisory council of manufacturing leaders to further Mayor Emanuel’s Regional Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs. The council was tasked with charting a course toward the next great era of Chicagoland manufacturing. Through several studies and surveys, the group determined that a manufacturing incubator would be a critical component towards maintaining Chicago’s leadership in product innovation and manufacturing. The council then selected Catalyze Chicago to serve as a partner in the effort to create this new manufacturing incubator, mHUB.  

mHUB’s mission is to create a vibrant, inventive community that will create breakthrough products and boost the local economy.  With an expanded state-of-the-art space, a large member community and access to resources and new manufacturing partners, mHUB members and partners will produce exceptional products and sustainable businesses. mHUB will help galvanize and connect the manufacturing ecosystem which includes long-time manufacturing companies and their leaders, universities rich with research and talent, the entrepreneurial community made up of makers and technologists, and investors who are eager to support new businesses emerging in this sector and in our region.


2. What is the larger role of maker spaces and prototyping in manufacturing and other creative fields? How do you see mHUB helping to grow this community in the Chicago area?

Maker spaces and prototyping lower the barriers of entry for manufacturing entrepreneurs. They allow ideas to be made into products more quickly and cost effectively. Innovators at mHUB and other maker spaces are not left to tackle the difficult stages of the innovation cycle without a community of creative problem solvers and access to state-of-the-art facilities and equipment.

By galvanizing connections between academia, investors, entrepreneurs and local manufacturers, mHUB will ensure that the Midwest region’s manufacturing industry continues to grow, accelerate and lead, and reduce the cost and barriers to entry for physical product innovation.


3. What went into finding and deciding upon the location in the River West neighborhood? Since the groundbreaking last year, how has the space been getting ready to open its doors for members?

The River West neighborhood was chosen for its convenient location in the heart of Chicago’s vibrant entrepreneurial Tech Triangle. We’re just blocks from businesses like Lightbank, Groupon, and Uptake and a short distance from Goose Island. mHUB is minutes away from the Kennedy Expressway and is easily accessible via public transportation. It is two blocks from the CTA Chicago Blue Line stop as well as a bus stop. River West is also well-known for being pedestrian and bike friendly. 

mHUB is a former Motorola Mobility prototyping lab. The facility offers a state-of-the-art infrastructure through a recent $22M renovation completed by Motorola. The building received a LEED Gold Certification in 2014, so we started with an almost perfect facility. During our construction period last fall and early this year, mHUB added windows to let more light into the space for members. We demolished walls to open up the floorplan to make it easier for members to collaborate. We also added amenities like kitchen areas, coworking lounges, and a huge event space with a bar that was designed by our members.


4.What unique facilities, programs, and services does mHUB offer to member startups?

mHUB features a variety of unique fabrication centers to aid in product design and rapid prototyping including:

  • Electronics Lab
  • 3D Printer Lab
  • Testing Lab
  • Textiles Lab
  • Plastics Lab
  • Woodworking Lab
  • Wet Lab
  • Metal Fabrication Lab
  • CNC Machine Lab
  • Laser Cutting Lab
  • Paint and Finish Area
  • Assembly Space

We also have a microfactory for onsite low-volume production runs. For a full equipment list, see here

In addition to the above, mHUB offers members access to coworking space, conference rooms, classroom and event spaces, as well as manufacturing and supplier connections, free design, cad/cam software licenses, access to storage, and loading dock assistance.


5. What are some of the key partnerships mHUB has established?  How do you plan to leverage those partnerships to benefit mHUB’s members?

As a 501(c (3) nonprofit organization, mHUB is primarily supported by our partner contributions. mHUB views these partnerships as strategic to our mission to connect the manufacturing industry to the entrepreneurial community to drive collaboration and product innovation. mHUB’s key partners include Marmon; Chamberlain Group; U.S. Economic Development Administration; GE Ventures; Kirkland & Ellis; Arrow Electronics; UL; Chase Foundation; World Business Chicago; Motorola Mobility; Autodesk; Jones Lang LaSalle; Technology and Manufacturing Association (TMA), Comcast Business; Wiegel Toolworks; Ask Power; IFF, KPMG, MINIMAL, who also designed mHUB’s visual brand identity; Inventables and Solidworks.

mHUB has leveraged these partnerships to acquire over $2.5M of manufacturing and prototyping equipment for our members. Additionally, our partner organizations will fuel mHUB’s mentor network to support our entrepreneurs and provide discounted services such as marketing and design.


6. What are your goals and strategy for recruiting startup members? What is the application process like?

mHUB will serve hundreds of entrepreneurs at any given time. We expect to nurture hundreds of new companies that will create thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue. mHUB has many assets to the attract new members. In addition to a 63,000 square-foot, well-outfitted workspace, members of mHUB are part of a lively community. Along with a host of events and educational programs, this community provides connections to and potential partnerships with other entrepreneurs, manufacturing and other business mentors, business accelerator programs, industrial design consultancies, and marketing firms, as well as legal and professional services. We will also offer continued support to businesses that graduate from our space. 

We are now accepting applications for membership to mHUB via the mHUB website, https://mhubchicago.com/page/application. The review process seeks to identify the most promising physical product design innovators who demonstrate the potential to succeed in executing their vision. Potential members supply their business plan, a market analysis and a summary of their current progress.



7. Congratulations on being awarded a $500,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) Regional i6 initiative. What went into the application process, and how do you envision this support will further help mHUB increase its offerings to members and the community?

Thank you! The grant is bestowed on organizations that are focused on fostering innovation and helping entrepreneurs build businesses and create new jobs. mHUB was chosen from a pool of more than 215 applicants, and this is the first time an Illinois innovation center has been awarded an i6 Challenge Grant. 

The i6 Challenge grant will aid in building out the mHUB facility, supporting vital education programs and assist in securing advanced prototyping equipment necessary for driving innovation in the Chicagoland area. The grant will also enable mHUB to add staff to our team to increase the overall resources for the community.


The ISTC is proud to have supported mHUB from its inception; partnering with WBC and UI LABS on overseeing a competitive RFP process that eventually decided upon Catalyze Chicago as an anchor partner, and helping mHUB secure the i6 Regional Innovation Strategies grant. ISTC President/CEO Mark Harris serves on the Board of Directors for both mHUB and World Business Chicago’s ChicagoNEXT, which was first tasked with creating mHUB.


(Images via Sean Su/mHUB, interview edited for length and clarity)



What we’re reading

Illinois Innovation Network Featured Resource

On Friday, March 10, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs will host the 2017 International Women’s Day Global Health Symposium: Innovation for Healthy Futures. This year we are exploring how innovation and storytelling are improving the lives of women and children globally – from incentivized prize competitions driving change to digital platforms elevating women’s issues and voices. The ISTC/I are proud to support the symposium along with some of our corporate partners, AbbVie and Horizon Pharma. Read more on the Council’s blog about our innovative partnerships impacting this field and register for the symposium here.