The Polsky Exchange is undergoing a soft reopening after being closed for several months because of the pandemic. The Polsky Exchange, which aims to serve UChicago and the South Side through entrepreneurship programs and research, has been made accessible to student entrepreneurs and community business members since June 14.
Polsky, originally named the Chicago Innovation Exchange, was established at the Graduate School of Business in 1998 through a $1 million donation from the Kaufman Foundation, which “[works] together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to take risks, own success, and be uncommon.” In 2014, the University opened a Polsky Exchange office on East 53rd Street and South Harper Avenue. The site features a 34,000-square-foot coworking and incubation space.
Abigail Ingram, the founder of the Women in Entrepreneurship Institute (WEI) at DePaul University, now serves as the executive director for the Polsky Exchange. Ingram received both her J.D. and M.A. in English from DePaul. While at DePaul’s Driehaus College of Business, Ingram acted as the inaugural director of WEI and taught courses on entrepreneurship law, strategy, and female leadership.
In an interview with The Maroon, Ingram shared the Polsky Exchange’s vision for the return of in-person programming.
“I think a lot of people are really anxious to get back to the in-person meetings. Plenty can happen via Zoom, but there's so much [more], especially when we talk about workshops and really digging into programs like the summer accelerator that will happen at the Polsky Exchange,” Ingram said. “We'll also be welcoming mentors back to the exchange. So these personal, one-on-one connections are incredibly beneficial for people who are launching ventures and scaling ventures.”
The reopening of the Polsky Exchange will allow for the summer accelerators, including the Build and Launch tracks, to continue. The Launch Accelerator is a fundraising program to help new student ventures gain momentum. The Build Accelerator will enable students and recent graduates to build up key elements of their venture through access to funding, coaching, and other resources at the Exchange.
The requirements for membership in the Polsky Exchange have changed since the pandemic. The Polsky Exchange used to require members who were not UChicago staff or students to pay a $50 membership fee each month. Now, the only active membership requirement is the submission of quarterly reports on the venture in which members are involved.
“We really want to make sure that we are having an economic impact and that we are supporting the companies that we work with, so in order to do that, every quarter, we'll be asking questions about revenue and hiring and all of those things,” Ingram said. “That tells us not only about the growth of the businesses that we're working with but what their needs might be and what programs we should be launching in order to support them.”
The Polsky Exchange offers more than 15 programs to advance projects and ventures past the initial planning stage. Polsky members also have access to the Polsky Fab Lab at the Polsky Exchange South location at 1463 East 53rd Street, where they are provided access to 3-D printing, fabrication workshops, and expert staff support so that prototypes can be developed and advanced.
“The expertise at our fabrication lab is, I have to say, even more valuable than access to 3-D printers and laser cutters and an electronics bench and woodshop and all those things that we have because these people can help you determine what are the best materials, what is the best way to go about actually creating this product, and again, bringing it into the world,” Ingram said.
Ingram emphasized her passion for the grant opportunities that Polsky offers for businesses to grow. One such grant is the Ascend program, which is a part of JPMorgan Chase’s nationwide initiative to provide assistance and opportunities to businesses owned by minorities, women, and veterans in major metropolitan areas. The students providing businesses with advice and support will be supervised by Chicago Booth adjunct professor of marketing Craig Terrill.
“With this program, we're looking at taking businesses that are in the six-figure range and helping them vault that and get into the million-dollar mark,” Ingram said. “It's a really exciting program because it involves M.B.A. students providing consulting services and really creating bespoke solutions for issues that occur in every business.”
The Polsky Exchange will also feature a financial fundamentals program that will enable businesses to dig into their profit and loss statements and understand financial reporting even better. Polsky will also help set up financial projections to advise the businesses on their futures.
The Polsky Center began offering students access on June 14 which will continue to be granted as long as they comply with the quarterly reporting requirements via email. Students are encouraged to reach out to email@example.com if they have questions.
“For those who want to at least explore entrepreneurship as a career path, I'm excited to welcome everyone back,” Ingram said.