Someone once said that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. These chicago entrepreneurs have taken that old saw on innovation and adopted it as their personal mantras. Here, the creators, business owners and innovators on the cusp of becoming The Next Big Thing.
FORGED BY FIRE
Active Alloys bends metal with an eye for the unusual.
The stereotypical metalsmiths are burly men welding beams over and over for an office park. Collin Smith and Bill Tellmann aren’t those guys. As the founding partners of Active Alloys, the trained engineers are far more likely to wield their torches to create something dazzling—a fire-breathing organ, for instance, or a DJ booth that blows clouds of bubbles.
“We’ll take on the job that no one else will touch,” says Tellmann, who founded the shop in 2010. After a varied career of corporate work at Ameritech and a 14-year stint as an actor, he wanted to get his hands dirty.
Today, Tellmann and Smith make spectacular handcrafted architectural pieces for luxury residences and construct unusual objects for spectacles at Redmoon Theater. “We’re not afraid to take a machine and turn it into something else, when most people are like, ‘I probably wouldn’t do that,’” says Smith. “We’re not limited by the rules.”
Stylish restaurants have taken notice too: The Dawson’s 20-foot wood-door entrance and Longman & Eagle’s steel staircase are among the most visible projects. “Experimenting is the best part of the job,” Tellmann says. “It’s refinement out of chaos.” –CR
This Winter, Active Alloys will clad the entire western blue line stop as part of a CTA renovation program.
A smart bracelet designed for the fashion-conscious.
“Not everyone has a natural internal optimism to go spin every night or run a certain number of miles,” says Rob DeMento, CEO of West Loop-based Mira Fitness. “We believe the power of data is when we help you quantify your entire day.” Founded in 2013, Mira—specifically designed for women on the go—proves style works best with substance. As for what it can do, the smart wearable tracks steps, distance, elevation and active minutes through the My Mira mobile app. And, not only does the bracelet look good—we’re a fan of the Polished Rosé All Day style in particular—it’s also durable and water-resistant.
What makes Mira unique is that it learns from its users, getting to know what time of the day they have the most energy and how much time they have to be active. It then offers encouragement to make smarter choices with healthy tips and personalized recommendations called boosts.
“In all of our research, we’ve learned that women are more inclined to aspire to be well, not necessarily fit,” says DeMento. “People generally aren’t making it to the gym as much as they would like and, in some cases, this becomes a point of guilt. At Mira, we pride ourselves in flipping the burden to a point of actionable benefits.” –CR
In 2016, Mira Fitness will launch a necklace and waterproof tracker as well as a virtual wellness community, where users can connect regardless of location.
Alex Sabbag is changing the conversation when it comes to nonprofits around the city.
Alex Sabbag is a translator of sorts. As founder and principal of AM Consulting, Sabbag puts her experience as a former communications guru for Fortune 500 companies to work for nonprofits. Simply put, Sabbag says, “AM Consulting bridges the gap between the corporate and nonprofit worlds.”
Take the Chicago affiliate of Susan G. Komen—Sabbag’s founding client. She saw its grantee luncheon, in which the organization gave away nearly $1.5 million dollars over a no-frills breakfast, as an opportunity. Sabbag recast it as an elegant, intimate luncheon at the Peninsula, facilitating corporate sponsors by presenting a unique opportunity to gain exposure with this community. It not only was a sponsorship success, but it also allowed Komen to enhance its engagement with funders and grant recipients.
“Sponsorships come about largely through relationships,” Sabbag says, “and while there are certainly warm and fuzzies affiliated with the donations, there is also the need for the sponsorship to positively impact [a corporation’s] business.”
Now, that’s what we call speaking the language. –SR
Two clients had banner years with Sabbag’s help: The Harold E. Eisenberg Foundation grew its annual fundraising dinner revenue by 20 percent, and Friends of Prentice increased net proceeds by 42 percent at its Annual Benefit.
Latin America seems a lot closer now that the Loop’s Latinicity has opened.
It’s not like chef Richard Sandoval needed to open another restaurant. With some 40 around the world, he has more than his fair share. But Latinicity was one he couldn’t resist. “I’ve always loved markets, and street food is one of my favorite things,” says the globe-trotting Mexican-born chef. “This was a natural for me.” Latinicity, which opened in November, is much more than a restaurant, though. On the third floor of Block 37, the 20,000-square-foot space includes 12 different food stations, a sit-down tapas restaurant, a full bar, a coffee and pastry stand, and a grocery store, all focused on the flavors of Latin America, Spain and Portugal. There’s even a small gallery dedicated to Latin American artists. “It’s like a cultural trip,” says Sandoval, who partnered with chef Jose Garces (Mercat a la Planxa, Rural Society) on the project.
Sandoval got the idea for Latinicity after visiting La Plaza de Andres, a food hall inside a Colombian shopping mall. Initially, Sandoval was invited by Block 37’s owners just to do a restaurant on the first floor. But the chef had bigger plans. “When they showed me this space, I told them, ‘I don’t want a restaurant; I want this,’” he says. “I put together a proposal and they loved it.” Note to Sandoval: We do too. –LS
Fast Food Done Right
Located in the lower level of Block 37, Loncheria by Latinicity is a quick-service restaurant offering on-the-go options such as tacos, rotisserie chicken, tortas and Mexican-style pastries.
MightyVine delivers fresh-from-the-vine tasty tomatoes all year long.
While most of us don’t give much thought to tomatoes, it’s a different story for Gary Lazarski and Jim Murphy. Fed up with the abundance of flavorless ones that find their way to Chicago, the two teamed up to create MightyVine, a 7.5-acre state-of-the-art hydroponic greenhouse 80 miles west of Chicago. “Tomatoes, more than any other vegetable, suffer from transportation,” says CEO Lazarski, a former securities attorney. “Everyone knows the best tomatoes are grown closest to home.”
MightyVine, based in Rochelle, Ill., celebrated its first tomato harvest in October—and, boy, what a harvest it was. With 100,000 plants, a mix of roterno and robinio (a slicing and cherry tomato, respectively), MightyVine will continue to supply the Midwest area, including Whole Foods, Jewel-Osco and Local Foods, with 4.5 million pounds of tomatoes annually—and there are plans to keep growing, enabled by specialized greenhouses created in partnership with a Dutch company. “This is something that doesn’t exist here,” says Lazarski. “But I think you’re going to see more and more greenhouses, especially since people now really value locally grown food.” –LS
MightyVine’s hydroponic growing process is better for the environment than traditional methods, using 10 percent of the water of field-grown tomatoes.