Startup community


MEG BARRON GOLDBERG ’05, MARK LAWRENCE ’08, KYLE JOSEPH ’04, and JAMIE JOHNSON ’00 enjoy reconnecting with each other at 1871 in the Merchandise Mart.

For many Chicagoans, 1871 will forever be remembered as the year of the great fire. But for four Bradley alumni, it means a new beginning with their digital startups. Operated by the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center and located on the 12th floor of the historic Merchandise Mart on the Near North Side, 1871 is a nod to the innovators who helped rebuild the Windy City.

The community’s marketing and networking opportunities inspired JAMIE JOHNSON ’00 to relocate his company, Verde Sustainabile Solutions, to the low-rent office space. “Being around other startups with the same challenges and obstacles seemed like a really great stepping stone,” he noted.

Established in 2010, Verde develops Web- and mobile-based applications designed to help consumers and businesses understand the energy costs of everyday products. “My company has built a data licensing platform that allows retailers to show complex energy efficiency calculations, helping people make better-educated decisions when shopping,” Jamie explained.

Previously employed by the Wilmette Fire Department for 10 years, Jamie holds a master’s degree from the University of Chicago. He and his wife, Linsey, live in Chicago with their daughter.

As a post-graduate student, KYLE JOSEPH ’04 regularly attended events at 1871. Today, his company, ItemNation, benefits from the startup community. “Having a consistent workspace with conference rooms, simple amenities [printer, kitchen, coffee], and a front desk provides validity to your company,” he said.

Kyle’s concept evolved out of a simple search for a filing cabinet. “I realized that I didn’t really even understand what features were important,” he recalled. However, ItemNation offers more than reviews and comparisons; it includes a social aspect that allows users to share and discuss products with friends in private shopping forums. “Our goal is to provide trusted research to help consumers make big-ticket purchases with confidence.”

Prior to founding ItemNation, Kyle worked at Continental Corp. for eight years. He holds an MBA from DePaul University and is a graduate of the Founder Institute. He lives in Chicago. 

After nearly a decade in the marketing industry, MEG BARRON GOLDBERG ’05 introduced bethie b. at 1871 through one of the monthly launch events hosted by Built in Chicago, an online community dedicated to supporting the city’s tech entrepreneurs. “The opportunities to connect with other digital business owners and investors have helped us grow and shape our business,” she said.

Her company began as an online marketplace where consumers can buy and sell recycled interiors and home decor. “After learning that furniture is the number one least-recycled item in a household — accounting for 4.1 percent of U.S. household waste a year — we launched bethie b. with the goal of promoting stylish, sustainable living,” she explained. Their current focus is e-commerce and wholesale sales of their custom-made pillows and home decor, currently sold in boutiques and online.

Meg is pursuing her MBA at Roosevelt University. She lives in Chicago with her husband, Dan.

MARK LAWRENCE ’08 and his partner moved their company, SpotHero, to the tech center after being chosen as one of 10 startups for Excelerate Labs’ (now TechStars-Chicago) class of 2012. “There’s an infectious energy here that is unparalleled,” he shared. “It’s great to be able to talk with people who have built large companies from scratch and get their insight into what we’re doing.”

Born out of Mark’s frustrating Chicago parking experiences, SpotHero connects motorists with affordable and accessible parking spaces in Chicago and Milwaukee. Since receiving more than $2.5 million in investment funds, Mark anticipates expanding SpotHero’s presence to more cities: “We’re very happy and excited. … Our investors recognize the need for technology and innovation in the parking industry and our prospects for growth.”

Mark resides in Chicago.

– Clara Miles, MA ’05

Blooming in the desert

LINDSEY RATHJEN ’07, RYAN MARQUARDT ’11, and CAMILLE YAMEEN ’12 pose with the lights of Las Vegas behind them. 

What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas for three Bradley graduates in the self-proclaimed entertainment capital of the world. 

LINDSEY RATHJEN ’07, RYAN MARQUARDT ’11, and CAMILLE YAMEEN ’12 are with Kirvin Doak Communications, the largest PR firm in Nevada. Camille is an account coordinator, Ryan is an assistant account executive, and Lindsey is a senior account executive. Together, they are spreading the word about clients ranging from dance crew Jabbawockeez, Blue Man Group, and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino to Easter Seals Nevada and HELP of Southern Nevada. 

“It’s hard for people to picture anyone choosing Las Vegas as a career-building destination, but for us it’s exactly that,” Camille said. “Since Las Vegas is a travel hot spot, there’s a high demand for energetic, ambitious young people in our industry.”

“Everything in Las Vegas makes a splash,” Ryan added. “And it’s our job to ensure that splash is as massive as possible.” 

“It’s great because you have these surreal moments when you will be working an event and a celebrity walks by, and you just have to say to yourself, ‘wow, this is my life,’” Camille explained, adding one such time was when singer Wayne Newton walked into the office to judge a Halloween costume contest.

All three cite the influence of LAURA HERLOVICH ’79 and her agency, PR Plus. 

Lindsey worked with client Blue Man Group Las Vegas when they parachuted into their new home at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino.

“Laura is the reason the three of us ended up in Vegas,” Ryan remarked. “We all interned with her, and our love for PR in Las Vegas developed largely because of her. Amidst the craziness that is Las Vegas, it’s comforting to know we have members of our Bradley family out here with us.” 

Representing the Las Vegas operation of Blue Man Group has its share of high points for Lindsey, particularly when the group opened at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino by skydiving into their new home last October. She was working with Guns N’ Roses at the Hard Rock at the same time. “By day, I was hanging out with Blue Man Group; by night, I was hanging out with Guns N’ Roses,” she said. “Definitely an ‘only in Las Vegas’ feeling.” 

The fast-paced lifestyle and changing client needs together fuel the excitement of working in an entertainment mecca. “I look back, and I can’t believe what I’ve done and how far I’ve come,” Lindsey said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with major celebrities, sports figures, and business people. There is no typical day at Kirvin Doak, which is why I love it.” 

– Bob Grimson ’81