Baseball analogies come easily to Emile Cambry Jr. ’08, mainly because he played the game during his undergraduate years at the University of Chicago. So it’s not surprising that he describes BLUE 1647, a tech incubator he founded in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, as being in the “minor leagues.”
“That’s no disrespect to any of the folks that are here,” Cambry says. “The thing is, our prices are very low compared to other [incubators].”
That’s part of the motivation behind BLUE 1647 (formerly Cibola). Cambry started it in 2013 to provide budding entrepreneurs with educational programs, mentoring services and office space that are both accessible and affordable.
And that minor-league ethos shows, even in the building itself. Commissioned graffiti art adorns the inside walls of the incubator’s headquarters, a wide-open space that’s more akin to a rec center than a high-tech learning facility.
That’s the point, Cambry says. For some people living in Chicago’s less affluent neighborhoods — perhaps a latent tech genius or two — the sleek veneer of downtown may be off-putting. “You can give opportunities to everybody, [but] not everybody’s going to take it,” Cambry says.
“For the folks [who] do want to actually make their lives better, they have a place in which to do it.”
Those folks remind Cambry of his dad Emile Sr., a native Haitian who came to the United States to become an emergency room doctor, and his mom Emily, who spent nearly three decades working as both a nurse and a social worker. Cambry points to them when asked what drives him to work a seven-day week, during which he balances his responsibilities at BLUE 1647 with teaching business at Chicago’s North Park University and serving on two local technology panels: Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Technology Industry Diversity Council and Congresswoman Robin Kelly’s Technology Innovation Council.
Cambry’s work ethic is infectious, it seems.
"We're excited to go from one location, one city, to having expanded to eight cities, including locations in Los Angeles and Haiti. BLUE1647 has been an opportunity for us to combine education and economic development, to create a new model of community economic development in the 21st century,” Cambry says. “We're part co-working space, part digital vocational school, part business accelerator. We've been fortunate to help provide the training, which in turn has created pathways into the tech community and enabled folks to start tech companies through our platform."