Alumni Profile: Haven Allen, Executive Director at mHub (MPP ‘13)
By Kate Toporski, CFE Content Development Intern
Since 1823, Chicago’s manufacturing and industrial industries have been booming. From rich natural resources to superb public transportation, Chicago continues to be a necessity for industrial growth across the country. But how do we create innovation in such a long-standing field?
Cue the entrance of Michigan Alum, Haven Allen.
After attending the University of Illinois at Chicago to receive his B.A. in Political Science, Allen worked on several political campaigns, which ultimately led him to start his own company. After founding his own startup, Haven worked on large scale productions, even publishing a magazine that acquired more than 25k readers.
But after several years of the startup lifestyle, Allen felt the need to give back by joining the Peace Corps. Haven moved to Panama to work as a Community Economic Development Volunteer.
“I was placed in a city that had been completely employed by a Chiquita Banana plantation. Chiquita had employed over 46,000 people,” said Allen. “After years of inhabiting the space, they just up and left; the employment rate went from 100% to 0%, and nobody had a job.”
During his time in Panama, Allen helped kick start their communities by encouraging community members to create their own businesses and create a plethora of jobs. With two years of helping spur local economies under his belt, Allen took his strategic economic talents to the University of Michigan, where he pursued his M.P.P. at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
From being involved in the Rackham Graduate School’s student government to taking part in Ford’s Domestic Policy Board, Allen was praised as a stand out entrepreneur and policymaker.
During his time at Michigan, Haven received a fellowship with the Mayor of Chicago, where he worked on innovating the ways that products come to market via Chicago’s booming manufacturing sector.
Upon completing his M.P.P. at Michigan, Haven Allen dove into the manufacturing industry in the heart of Chicago. Ever since, he’s been facilitating growth and innovation within the city.
CFE had the chance to sit down with this University of Michigan Alumni and Executive Director of mHub, where he shared the story of how his time in the Peace Corps influenced his love of policy, innovation, and entrepreneurship within one of the United States’ most industrial cities:
Q: Tell us about yourself and your work at mHub.
Haven Allen: I went to undergrad in Chicago, Illinois, where I received a Bachelor’s in Political Science. I worked on several political campaigns, leading me to start my own company focusing on large scale productions and publishing a magazine reaching 25,000 readers. I decided I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life, so I joined The Peace Corps. I was placed in a Chiquita banana plantation which employed 46,000 workers and helped businesses to spur the local economy. After, I arrived at the University of Michigan to get my Master’s of Public Policy and a Certificate of Graduate Studies in Science, Technology, and Public Policy. I was also very active at Michigan. As a graduate student, I got involved with Rackham Student Government and the domestic policy board. I also had a fellowship with the Chicago Mayor. After graduate school I was with World Business Chicago in their manufacturing sector for two years, working to spur process innovation, better align skill sets with the workforce, product bucketing, and ways to get products into more markets. From there, I went to mHub where I focused on trends in regional investments, property, and talent. We opened in March of 2017 as a part start-up, part established industry, with a prototype lab and over 70 teams. Today, we serve a plethora of industries from medical to oil and aviation. It’s a playground with 10 labs in electronics, wet, fabrication, laser cutters, and 3D printers. We are lucky to have this building since we share it with the Motorola testing facility. All of our teams are very collaborative, bartering, and contracting. We are launching a lot of great companies. In just 2 years, we’ve reached $60 million in revenue, 40 patents, and $30 million in investment capital.
Q: How did your time in the Peace Corps shape you as an entrepreneur?
HA: It teaches you to be very resourceful. The Peace Corps gives you programmatic support, but the funding and influence are on your own. Generally, it made me appreciate the need to support back home. We are a great country, but people need more opportunity. When I came back to Michigan, I aimed to create more opportunity here as well. I met people from all over the country so you get a lot of different perspectives from people within your own country. It was a quick and amazing two years. It’s a get it done mentality and figure out resources mentality.
Q: What kind of experiences during your time at Michigan inspired you to innovate and grow the manufacturing industry?
HA: Science, technology, and public policy. Engineering helped to learn about policy, but I eventually went on to get a technological perspective on policy. Over time, I learned a great deal about the private and public investments sectors. My experience in Public Policy proposals opened my eyes to the manufacturing industry and to see first-hand how public and private investments can spur innovation.
I also worked on policies related to renewable energy standards when I was at Michigan back in 2012. I got connected and was very lucky to be at World Business Chicago in a public/private partnership. I got the job because I wrote the naive white paper, but took a very research/academic approach. From there, I engaged with key stakeholders and 50 industry leaders. I focused in workforce process innovation, needs within various Chicago regions, and dove in to find where intervention was needed — It was a fascinating two years.
Q: How did mHub get started?
HA: mHub stemmed from my initial research work and through my experience as director of the Advisory Council for Chicagoland Manufacturing. I looked at how companies were investing, what was being created, and where is talent moving. So I thought, “How can we spur that innovation?”. From there, the U.S. Department of Commerce partnered with Chicagoland to look at pushing manufacturing to attract talent and lower barriers to engage innovation. We surveyed industries, technology, and entrepreneurs. We thought, “Is there a gap in resources?” And there is a need and we can make it happen. Let’s go all in. We aggregated partners, gave them resources, and got lucky in finding our space. We brought in corporate sponsors and were fully funded by them. We announced the innovation center in August of 2016, and after 5 months of construction, we had our grand opening in March.
Q: What does a day at mHub look like?
HA: We have an amazing, dedicated team. We are bringing this place to life. We are a startup ourselves, but everybody wears every hat. I’m very engaged in everything from membership, fundraising, marketing, etc. We’re at the point where we are very customer-focused, with over 160 people and thousands that tour. We do lots of programming, IP classes, and events at night that are open to the public. Everyone puts in 80-100 hours a week, willingly. Every week I see the amazing impact this place has. In August, we had a name, no branding, no IT, building, processes, HR, or data flows, but now we are getting into building a community, diverse set of partners, and a lot of fun.
The last two months have been really fun and interesting.
Q: What is your definition of an entrepreneur?
HA: Someone who identifies a need and not only a need, but understands the customer, a business behind the need, the potential behind the launch and will do anything it takes to get the job done. They sacrifice time, money, and personal life to wear whatever hat is necessary to get things going. You can’t be too good to take out the garbage, budgeting, leading. If you’re not willing to take the extra hour, your team won’t either. An entrepreneur will lay it all on the line to make an impact.
Someone that’s going to be resourceful and figure it out. Problem-solving, determination, and desire to will it because no one else will if you don’t.
Q: If you could tell young entrepreneurs one thing, what would it be?
HA: You need to be able to give it your all and in doing so, it’s okay if you don’t succeed. Failure is an amazing learning experience. If you go through the process of starting a business, it will ultimately make you more successful, more professional, and more tenacious. It’s a huge development opportunity.
I’m a serial entrepreneur — the pursuit of the unknown will give you ups and downs. If there is no opportunity and everything is going wrong, persevere and celebrate the little successes. A lot of little successes make you largely successful.