These Next Wave Of Innovators Are Shaking Up Chicago

By J.P. Anderson | April 7, 2021 | Feature Migration

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PHOTO BY @COLORLAMINATION
PHOTO BY @COLORLAMINATION

THE COMMUNITY CRUSADERS

Lucía Angel and Jorge Saldarriaga Founders, Grocery Run Club groceryrunclub.com

The pandemic has affected all Chicagoans, but the struggle has been disproportionately felt in underserved communities on the city’s South and West sides, where access to fresh produce and other necessities is limited. Enter Grocery Run Club, a community-driven initiative that works with local orgs to provide those essentials to the hardest-hit areas of the city. Launched in July 2020 by partners Lucía Angel and Jorge Saldarriaga (both Chicago natives with neighborhood ties; she raised Little Village, he in Ravenswood and Portage Park), GRC has already aided 16 different community organizations—from Alt_Market Austin to Beet Chicago Community Garden—in distributing more than 45,000 pounds of fresh produce and 13,000 personal hygiene products to more than 4,600 residents. Here, Angel and Saldarriaga expand on their mission.

What have you learned in the past year?

LA: I’ve learned that when you call a group of people to action, amazing things can happen.

JS: I’ve learned that hurt people hurt people, so we must strive to take care of one another. If and when we take care of one another, we start working toward change.

Who inspires you?

LA: My mom and dad are my endless inspiration. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to get a better grasp of the obstacles and hardships they were faced with as immigrants and how resilient they were at each moment. It gives me the energy to face anything that comes before me.

What drives you to innovate?

JS: I innovate to create accessibility and options for communities that have been neglected by nonequitable systems.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

LA: I love making life a little bit easier for someone, even if it’s just for a small moment. I also really enjoy being able to connect to community organizations all over the city and learn more about the impact they are facilitating in their communities. We have such incredible people in this city really working on creating change.

What can we expect next from Grocery Run Club?

JS: We’re committed to really building out some great programs focused around youth education and community development while still meeting the immediate needs of underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. And we’re going to do it with the help of our community. We ain’t going anywhere!


PHOTO BY NOLIS ANDERSON
PHOTO BY NOLIS ANDERSON

THE MULTI HYPHENATE

Kendall Hurns Entrepreneur kendallhurns.com; roboticminds.co

Whether it’s working with artist Hebru Brantley on the creation and curation of immersive Pilsen art experience Nevermore Park, representing a roster of clients that has included NBA All-Star Andre Iguodala, or as lead designer of streetwear brand Robotic Minds (recently rocked by LeBron James himself), Chicago native Kendall Hurns is always in brainstorm mode. That nimble attitude has helped this 38-year-old Bronzeville resident—whose passion for art spills over into his own personal collection, which includes works by Max Sansing, Kayla Mahaffey and Brantley—continue to thrive during the pandemic, with new projects on his plate including expanded drops from Robotic Minds and his first book. “It’s a hybrid genre of memoir meets narrative meets autobiography that provides insight on my years in the sports and entertainment industry,” notes Hurns. Knowing this entrepreneur, it’s bound to be a page turner.

What have you learned in the past year?

It’s extremely important to be able to pivot. At any given moment, life can shift ; only so much is in our control, so adaptability is key.

Who inspires you?

My son, Gavin, and the fact that I get to play an intricate role in teaching and molding him. He’s one of the smartest kids I know and constantly challenges me to be better and keeps me on my toes. I’m very grateful and lucky to experience his growth and recognize his impact on me. I can’t wait to witness how he leaves his mark on the world. I’m certain he’ll be a new and improved version of myself.

What drives you to innovate?

As an entrepreneur, my brand Robotic Minds’ mantra is Create, Destroy, Rebuild. The creative process is fluid. We start with a single idea and the end result is far from it. Lack of innovation is rooted in stagnancy, and I recognize that my platform to build and introduce new ideas has the ability to influence others to do the same.

How do you personally recharge?

I think it’s extremely important to practice self-care. As much as I enjoy serving through entrepreneurship and countless projects, self-serving is equally important. In my downtime, you can find me cycling on Lakeshore Drive, having Nerf gun wars with Gavin and enjoying a good dinner.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Every business I create, every role I accept, every project I take on is attached to fulfillment. I have taken a pass on opportunities that did not align with my goals and purpose; if it doesn’t fulfill me, I don’t touch it. Much of my enjoyment comes from relationship-building. I consider myself a relationship entrepreneur. The relationships I’ve established have had a huge impact on my journey. When you genuinely love what you do, it never feels like work.


PHOTO BY HANNAH SCHWEISS
PHOTO BY HANNAH SCHWEISS

THE CBD GURU

Shatoia Robinson Founder, Budzy Box budzybox.com

Born from a pandemic-inspired pivot, Budzy Box is breaking ground as the only Black woman-owned luxury CBD subscription box for women. The mind behind it? Shatoia Robinson, whose loss of a full-time position as a diabetes care medical device sales rep freed her to devote her passion to her then side hustle preaching the gospel of CBD to women millennial age and beyond. “I discovered the benefits of CBD firsthand,” says Robinson, a West Loop resident. “The more I educated myself on the power of CBD, the more I wanted to share this knowledge and empower women to embrace a holistic, healthy life infused with CBD.” As Budzy Box blooms, we get the behind-the-scenes scoop from Robinson.

What have you learned in the past year?

I’ve learned that women can truly do and have it all. It just depends on what ‘all’ is to you. From breaking glass ceilings as high as the White House to being multitasking moms helping with e-learning, women are boss babes.

Who inspires you?

I’m inspired by women who disrupt industries and demand and create room for themselves in what are typically male-dominated industries. Representation matters.

What drives you to innovate?

Lack of representation. I want other young Black women to see me and my story and know that anything is possible with enough focus, grit and tenacity.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I enjoy helping people. I have always lived by the ethos that I am here to improve my life as well as the lives of others. I’ve designed my career and goals around a life centered on servitude. How do you personally recharge? Alone time with my mom and my dogs gives me the ultimate boost when I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.

What can we expect next from Budzy Box?

We’ve just launched our Sweet Dreams Sleep Kit, and we plan to launch a CBD University and Culinary Cannabis Kit next quarter. I also plan to go back to my roots and bring my cookie business back to life under the Budzy brand umbrella (I formerly owned a food truck in Chicago that sold my grandmother’s amazing cookies). So look out for Budzy in your neighborhood grocers soon—we’re coming in hot!


PHOTO BY NASTASIA MORA
PHOTO BY NASTASIA MORA

THE MUSHROOM WHISPERER

Guy Furman Founder, Windy City Mushroom windycitymushroom.com

When it comes to investments, there are few safe bets these days, but here’s one: mushrooms. That’s right: The edible mushroom industry is on track to be a nearly $79 billion business by the end of 2024, up from $50 billion in 2019, fueled by consumers’ discovery of their health benefits and as a sustainable food option. One Chicagoan who couldn’t be happier about that is Guy Furman, who in summer 2019 founded Windy City Mushroom, which has fast become a go-to source for premium fungus. And we’re not talking baby bellas here—think lion’s mane, pioppino, black pearl king trumpet and more, all grown out of WCM’s 12,000-square-foot Humboldt Park facility. As he scrambles to keep up with his fast-growing client base of both consumers and high-profile restaurants like Etta and The Publican, Furman gives us the dirt on his exciting new venture.

Who inspires you?

Elon Musk. Before he was rivaling Jeff Bezos for the richest man in the world, he was in danger of losing everything. He’s proven that figuring things out as you go can work outside of the soft ware industry if you’re smart and dedicated to making it work, which is something that scares traditional investors.

What drives you to innovate?

Necessity. In the business that we’re in, there aren’t many off-the-shelf solutions to the problems we encounter. There’s no road map for owning a gourmet indoor mushroom farm.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

The innovation portion of this process excites me the most and gets me up in the morning. Although it can be frustrating, we always have things to work on and that we can do better to improve costs or yields.

What gives you confidence of WCM’s continued success?

We have a marketable, healthy, delicious product that is part of multiple trends we’re seeing in the food industry, like an emphasis on local production and meat substitutes. We’re not just replacing your lettuce with a locally grown lettuce, we’re providing new products that weren’t even available to our customers beforehand and have the potential to make Americans rethink mushrooms away from the traditional white button.

What’s next for you?

We’re excited that we’ve moved into a few retail locations and are able to sell directly to consumers out of our facility, as it opens a lot more opportunities and expands our reach to a broader customer base. When the world goes back to normal, we’ll be emerging with a more diverse customer base and a larger facility with major technology upgrades learned from our first year in operation. This is a business that is highly investable and I’m looking to grow it over the next few years.


PHOTO BY AMY TRAN
PHOTO BY AMY TRAN

THE ARTIST

Louis De Guzman Visual artist and designer louisdeguzman.com

Artistic inspiration comes in many forms. For Chicago creative Louis De Guzman, pop culture is key—and with his eye-poppingly colorful, dynamic works inspired by everything from Bart Simpson to Bugs Bunny and SpongeBob SquarePants (plus his own geometric abstractions inspired by his family’s immigrant journey), the 31-year-old is gaining a serious following among in-the-know Chicagoans and art insiders alike—just check out his 42K-strong Insta feed, where he rubs elbows with everyone from Takashi Murakami to legendary graffiti artist Futura. Collabs with brands like the Chicago Bulls, New Balance and Renault have further raised his profile, but commercial success is secondary to his main vision: “By expressing my artistic vision through a variety of mediums, those practices have allowed me to work with others to push the human sensory boundary and show people how far we can go as creatives.” Sounds good to us—and looks even better. Here’s a look inside De Guzman’s perspective.

What have you learned in the past year?

I’ve learned that patience and timing are everything. I understand that everything we go through on our own journeys is meant to happen for a reason.

Who inspires you?

My family, my friends, my team and the community of Chicago. They are my driving force and help me to navigate my own journey and path. I wouldn’t be here without the influence of these people and places.

What drives you to innovate?

The pursuit of removing the perceived boundaries of what art is. As an artist, I have the privilege to develop a narrative for how I see the world, and it is an honor to be able to share that narrative with others.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

The fact that I get to share these works, experiences and defining moments with people who genuinely enjoy them. I love being able to break the language barrier and communicate with an audience who takes away personal feelings and emotions from the body of work.

What can we expect next from you?

I’ve been working with my team on a variety of projects that we can’t wait to share with the world in 2021 and 2022. I always stick to the saying ‘expect the unexpected’ because you never know what things will come into fruition when you keep your heart and mind in the right place for the right reasons.


PHOTO COURTESY OF LX MGMT
PHOTO COURTESY OF LX MGMT

THE RETAIL RENEGADES

Matt Matros and Lindsey Kilbride Founders, Shopflix shopflix.com

"QVC meets Netflix meets Peloton” is the elevator pitch for new media business Shopflix—and if this concept of social media personalities livestreaming product demos and brand founders telling their stories snags even a fraction of the biz of any of those three powerhouses, founders Matt Matros and Lindsey Kilbride are going to have a blockbuster hit on their hands. Considering that livestream shopping in China is a $66 billion per year business (and growing like wildfire), it’s no wonder that Matros and Kilbride—who’ve made their marks as the founder of Protein Bar and Limitless and as one of Trunk Club’s first 10 employees, respectively—have raised nearly $2 million in funding. Will audiences tune in? We’ll find out soon enough: Shopflix is set to make its much-anticipated debut this month. As the dynamic duo prepares for launch, they share their insight on the new venture.

What have you learned in the past year?

LK: I’ve learned to be open, to take a deep breath and to consider a new path even if it didn’t fit my ‘plan.’ This past year also reminded me that some of the most challenging times can bring forth the greatest opportunities.

What drives you to innovate?

MM: Being caught from behind. When I founded Protein Bar in 2009, healthy eating in a fast-casual environment was a novel concept for Americans, let alone Chicagoans. I spent 2013 focusing on selling the business to private equity and not on innovating our offering, and as a result, competition caught up to us. It’s taken us the last few years to work our way back.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

LK: I love that at all times we are stretching ourselves to make Shopflix better. I love that we are doing something that hasn’t been done before. I also very much enjoy the culture our (small but mighty) team has built out of the gates.

MM: Entrepreneurship is about seeing the possible and then making it happen. Nobody cares about an innovation until we, as founders, make them. At Shopflix, we have an audacious vision of creating a new culture of shopping and content, and we want to make it happen.

How do you recharge?

MM: I’m lucky enough to have a wife who understands that entrepreneurship is both a blessing and a curse. So I recharge by trying to show her every day how thankful I am for her.

What gives you confidence that Shopflix will be a success?

LK: I believe in myself; I believe in Matt; I believe in the team we are building and the partners we are choosing to run alongside. With the right people in place, low egos and a willingness to learn as we grow, I think we have a better chance than not of figuring this thing out.

Tags: innovators
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