There’s no place like home for business-starting grads

Paul Thissen

Between party patrols, bizarre housing regulations and a lackluster nightlife, it would seem that most Northwestern students might like to leave Evanston as quickly as possible after they graduate.

Many who choose to start businesses, however, stay here — largely because they like it.

“It’s a fantastic place to do business,” said Wes Shepherd, a second-year Kellogg Graduate School of Management student and president, CEO and founder of ChannelVelocity, a marketing and logistics company located in the Illinois Technology Enterprise Center building at 1801 Maple Ave.

“It’s much better than downtown Chicago; it’s a highly supportive environment,” Shepard continued.

ITEC, designated a research park by the city of Evanston, is an NU-sponsored incubator for new technology businesses.

It is exempt from Evanston property taxes, making it an attractive option for new businesses based out of NU.

“It’s more than an incubator,” Shepherd said. “(Start-ups) get a lot of business development support.”

Staying close to the university is another reason to remain in Evanston, Shepherd said.

“Having the world’s best marketing school six blocks away … is a huge asset,” he said.

Of Kellogg students who start businesses directly after graduating, most return home, according to Kellogg professor Steven Rogers. For those who do not, however, Evanston remains a popular choice.

“Of those who do remain in the state of Illinois, several of them do remain in Evanston,” Rogers said. “Many of them remain in Evanston because of (ITEC) … (or) they remain in Evanston to give them access to their alma mater.”

But Kellogg is not the only source of new businesses in Evanston. Ben Cherry, Weinberg ’04, runs his own technical consulting businesses out of his home in southeast Evanston.

He started his business when he was still in school, he said, though he originally planned to go to law school. Since he already had clients in the area, it was natural to continue after graduation.

“There wasn’t a lot of conscious thinking (about where to locate),” he said.

Cherry and all businesses in ITEC avoid one challenging aspect of operating a business in Evanston — finding affordable office space.

Nanosphere Inc., a nanotechnology company founded by NU chemistry Prof. Chad Mirkin, started in Evanston but has now moved to nearby Northbrook.

“You can’t find sufficient space in one location in Evanston,” Nanosphere Chief Operating Officer Vijaya Vasista said. “Once you start growing, you need a little bit more room. I think it’s important for the company to be contiguously located.”

Biosphere occupies about 10,000 square feet in Northbrook, compared to the 5,000 square feet the company had at its Evanston location.

For Shepherd and Cherry, though, finding enough space is not a problem. Evanston also has one other advantage: they like it here.

“I wanted to be in the north suburbs,” Cherry said. “I like it (in Evanston). This is where I got started.”

Shepherd said that he has heard about high property taxes and difficulty with space, and he worries that it also may be more difficult to attract employees, because it is not convenient to commute to Evanston from any south or west suburbs.

Still, he wants to keep his business in Evanston even as it grows, he said.

“We’re sure going to try (to stay) because we like it here,” he said.

Reach Paul Thissen at [email protected].