Business incubator program expands in Hyde Park 

Staff Writer

Since the rise of new businesses in the Hyde Park area, residents have noticed an enormous spike in the number of business incubators developed by the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center, 1452 E. 53rd St.

The purpose of its incubator program is to help entrepreneurs develop projects while supporting them through the creation process of their startups.

This structure allows university entrepreneurs and startups to be hosted on campus and to benefit from all of the school’s facilities.

The program is also committed to offering the necessary resources – access to space, capital, and mentorship – for entrepreneurs on the South Side to succeed. Nearly all of their resources are open to University of Chicago students, faculty, staff, and alumni, as well as entrepreneurs from the local community.

“With the University of Chicago Law School’s Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship, we annually co-host the South Side Pitch,” said John Flavin, associate vice president for entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago and director of the Polsky Center. “ [It’s] an event, which gives local community entrepreneurs an opportunity to present their ideas to investors.”

According to Flavin, several of the participating companies of the event will go on to incubate at the Polsky Center, where they will offer workshops and training series to local entrepreneurs, who are looking to increase their work load.

The 34,000-square foot university owned exchange center on 53rd Street, which sits in the heart of Hyde Park, offers future business owners co-working space, “the Polsky Incubator [program]”, and a state of the art Fabrication Lab that competes with the best in the city.

In spite of the university’s involvement, nearly 20 percent of the 3,000 Polsky Exchange members have no previous affiliation with the university, according to Flavin. He said that some entrepreneurs come from surrounding neighborhoods and are willing to pay a small monthly fee for complete access to [office] space.

And with a roster of experienced mentors and over 400 yearly events for its members, some believe that the Polsky Center is a valuable resource for the community.

“It’s very important [to have them in the community],” said Dwayne Hircsh, executive board member of the Small Business Advocacy Council and a member of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce.”[There are] a lot of people who have developed the entrepreneurial spirit over the years, who don’t always have enough money [or resources] to establish brick and mortar office space.”  

Hirsch said that the recent rise in business incubators is not a coincidence. He explained it was a perfect time to develop them in Hyde Park and would build future business opportunities through networking, communication and shared affordable office space.

Although most business leaders value incubators in the community, some Hyde Park residents had concerns.

“Since 2011, I have seen an upsurge and influx of different types of businesses in the neighborhood,” Hyde Park resident Michael Bryant said. “I also have a small concern with crime.”

Bryant explained that after six years of living in the community, he has witnessed small incidents, large incidents, rent increases and congestive traffic flow. He said with the influx of new people and new businesses moving into the community, it would increase the propensity in crime.

Most credit the growth of business incubators in the Hyde Park area to the University of Chicago and business leaders of the community. As industry leaders become more involved in assisting entrepreneurs to help create viable companies, some believe it will benefit the wider business community.

“We are proud to contribute to the economic development of the Hyde Park and South Side community [and] Provide the lasting resources for local entrepreneurs and small businesses to succeed,” Flavin said.