Polsky Exchange reopens with new programs and opportunities for local entrepreneurs

The Polsky Stock Exchange is undergoing a slow reopening after being closed for several months due to the pandemic. The Polsky Exchange, which aims to serve UChicago and the South Side through entrepreneurship and research programs, has been open to student entrepreneurs and members of the business community since June 14.

Polsky, originally called the Chicago Innovation Exchange, was established at the Graduate School of Business in 1998 with a $1 million grant from the Kaufman Foundation, which “[works] together with the education and entrepreneurship communities to take risk, own success and be uncommon.” In 2014, the university opened a Polsky Exchange office at East 53rd Street and South Harper Avenue. The site contains 34,000 square meters of coworking and incubation space.

Abigail Ingram, founder of the Women in Entrepreneurship Institute (WEI) at DePaul University, now serves as executive director for Polsky Exchange. Ingram received both her JD and MA in English from DePaul. While at DePaul’s Driehaus College of Business, Ingram served as the inaugural director of WEI and taught courses on entrepreneurial law, strategy and women’s leadership.

In an interview with MaroonIngram shared Polsky Exchange’s vision for the return of live programming.

“I think a lot of people are really anxious to get back to live dating. A lot can happen through Zoom, but there’s only so much [more], especially when we’re talking about workshops and really digging into programs like the summer accelerator that’s going to happen at the Polsky Exchange,” Ingram said. “We will also welcome exchange mentors. So these personal, one-on-one connections are incredibly useful for people who are starting ventures and scaling ventures.”

The re-opening of the Polsky Exchange will allow for the continuation of summer accelerators, including build and launch tracks. Launch Accelerator is a fundraising program to help new student ventures gain momentum. The Build Accelerator will enable students and recent graduates to build the key elements of their venture through access to funding, mentoring and other resources on the stock market.

Polsky Exchange membership requirements have changed since the pandemic. The Polsky Exchange required members who were not UChicago employees or students to pay a $50 membership fee each month. Now the only active requirement for membership is the submission of quarterly reports on the venture in which the members are involved.

“We really want to make sure that we’re having an economic impact and that we’re supporting the companies that we’re working with, so to do that, every quarter we’re going to ask questions about revenue and employment and all those things,” Ingram said. “It tells us not only about the growth of the businesses we work with, but also what their needs might be and what programs we need to launch to support them.”

Polsky Exchange offers more than 15 programs to advance projects and ventures after the initial planning phase. Polsky members also have access to the Polsky Fab Lab at the Polsky Exchange South location at 1463 East 53rd Street, where they are given access to 3-D printing, fabrication workshops and expert staff support to develop and refine prototypes.

“The expertise in our fabrication lab is, I have to say, even more valuable than having access to 3-D printers and laser cutters and an electronics bench and a wood shop and all those things that we have because those people can help you determine what the best materials are, which is the best way to actually create this product, and again, bring it into the world,” Ingram said.

Ingram emphasized her passion for the grant opportunities Polsky offers for business growth. One such grant is the Ascend program, which is part of JPMorgan Chase’s national initiative to provide assistance and opportunities to minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses in major metropolitan areas. The students providing advice and support to businesses will be supervised by Chicago Booth Assistant Professor of Marketing Craig Terrill.

“With this program, we’re looking to take companies that are in the six-figure range and help them close that and get to $1 million,” Ingram said. “It’s a really exciting program because it involves MBA students providing consulting services and really creating custom solutions to problems that arise in every business.”

Polsky Exchange will also feature a Financial Fundamentals program that will allow businesses to delve into their profit and loss statements and understand financial reporting even better. Polsky will also help set up financial projections to advise companies on their future.

The Polsky Center began offering students access on June 14 that will continue to be granted as long as they comply with quarterly email reporting requirements. Students are encouraged to contact polsky@uchicago.edu with questions.

“For those who want to at least explore entrepreneurship as a career path, I’m excited to welcome everyone,” Ingram said.

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