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The Second Company from the Second CityFebruary - 2020

From 1871 to 2020


AE Marketing Group Founder and CEO, Brian Walker, chats with his daughter at 1871 on Bring Your Child to Work Day in 2017.

Nearly 150 years ago, the Great Chicago fire transformed the city.  The fire made architects, innovators, planners, and others, think differently about a new city – one that would be forever better. As it was rebuilt, Chicago received the nickname, “the second city.”

Today 1871 doesn’t just hold a place in Chicago’s history, but its future as well. 1871 is a not-for-profit organization that exists to inspire, equip, and support founders to build great businesses, including my own business – AE Marketing Group. 

When AE Marketing Group came to 1871, we were an atypical member, founded five years earlier and already past the “startup” phase (although we continue to operate as a lean and agile company today).  But it was inside the walls of 1871 that the company really took off – new people, new products, new services, new opportunities, and record revenue growth – including three consecutive years on the list of America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies.  


Marketing Manager, Alexa Jackson, CEO, Brian Walker, and Marketing Manager, Anna Wassman, celebrate 3x Inc.5000.

As we now look to our company’s own future, it is bittersweet that we announce AE Marketing Group will be leaving 1871, our home since 2016.  

The year before moving to 1871, AE Marketing Group was named a Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business. Goldman Sachs helped us run a financially disciplined business, but it was inside 1871 that we became a growth business.

Year after year after year, AE Marketing grew, but there came a tipping point.  I began to wonder if growth was still the right strategy for the company. Because the more we grew, the more complex the business became to operate. The more we grew, the more unnecessary layers came between team members and customers.  The more we grew, the more we said “Yes” when we should have said, “No thank you.” As the company’s leader, I recognized we needed to commit to being better, not bigger. 


Like the “Second City,” there comes a time for innovation and thinking differently about what you’ve built. For our company, that time is 2020.  

AE Marketing Group is in a unique position – we have a loyal group of customers that we enjoy working with every day. We are a nimble team that does more in a week than many others do in a month, all while prioritizing our lives outside of the office. Equally important is that the company has always been profitable and that financial strength provides the rare opportunity to design a future business on our own terms.  

Therefore, we decided as a team, we would design our “second company” in a new office.  Our thinking is a new space will fuel new ideas, new opportunities, and new experiences.


Media Director, Maureen Sullivan, and Marketing Manager, Anna Wassman, on 1871 Demo Day in 2017.

What will our “Second Company” look like?

I don’t know yet and that’s what makes it exciting. 

As we leave 1871 and head to our new West Loop office, we look back over the last four years fondly.  

Our team is beyond grateful for the impact that 1871, its employees, and more importantly, the member community had (and likely will continue to have) on us.  

Some of our favorite 1871 highlights include:


As the #1 ranked university-affiliated business incubator in the world, 1871 provided a great pipeline of eager talent ready to work.  Loyola University, in particular, provided AE Marketing Group not one, but three terrific interns over the years, two of whom went on to take management positions within the company.  


Marketing Manager Manager and Loyola University of Chicago Alum, Anna Wassman joined the company as an intern.


The programming and workshops 1871 provides not only benefit the member community, but often other Chicago, national, and even international business leaders.  On multiple occasions AE Marketing Group CEO, Brian Walker, spoke to associations, companies, and US Military Veterans inside 1871. 


AE Marketing Group CEO, Brian Walker, shares emerging trends in digital and customer experience at 1871 in 2019.


While a place for founders, funders, and technologists, 1871 never forgets that we are one big family.  In fact, some of us have our own families too. And no matter if it was a summer day, a snow day, or just a ‘put my kid to work’ day, our sons and daughters were always welcomed in 1871.  


The “A” and the “E” in AE Marketing Group often got into trouble having too much fun inside the walls of 1871.



In 2016, 1871 built a podcast studio for its members, which was the same year our company launched the award-winning Brand Lab Series™ Podcast, featuring executives from the world’s largest, fastest-growing, and most innovative companies, including Deloitte, IBM, Accenture, Simple Mills, RXBAR, Bosch, The Pat Tillman Foundation, PIMCO, and more.  Over 5 seasons we have recorded over fifty episodes inside the 1871 studio. 


Simple Mills Founder and CEO, Katlin Smith, joined the Brand Lab Series™ Podcast in Season 3 in 2017.


Access to capital should never stop a business from its true potential, and similar to the university presence, there is a wide range of private equity and venture capital firms throughout 1871 who can fund your startup or just provide you the financial advice and encouragement you need to succeed.


ParkerGale shared their advice on everything from funding to fashion to coffee with AE Marketing Group in 2017.


There are literally hundreds of mentors and guest lecturers inside 1871 in any given month on virtually any topic you might need help with including strategy, sales, technology, wellness, operations, and yes, marketing too.  Not only can these sessions help a founder, but it provides a built-in training benefit to member company employees as well.  

Bob Moesta, inventor and entrepreneur, came to 1871 to talk about the “Jobs-to-be-done” strategy in 2018.

Bob Moesta, inventor and entrepreneur, came to 1871 to talk about the “Jobs-to-be-done” strategy in 2018.


Co-creation and collaboration opportunities are just a desk away inside 1871.  Community is one of the best perks of being a member. So often bringing diverse groups together can propel a business idea into action.  

AE Marketing Group and 1871 host a Co-Creation Lab for a US Military Veteran Founded start-up on Veterans Day 2017.

AE Marketing Group and 1871 host a Co-Creation Lab for a US Military Veteran Founded start-up on Veterans Day 2017.

Bobby and Rhonda 

In an era of customer experience, you cannot overlook the importance of front line employees and a smile.  Nearly every day since 2016, our team was greeted by Bobby and Rhonda as we came into our office. Their presence provided an instant sense of comfort (and on a stressful day – calmness) to our staff and visiting guests. 


Saying goodbye to Bobby, Rhonda and 1871 in January 2020.

And now 2020 brings an exciting change to AE Marketing Group.  We look forward to sharing our journey as “The Second Company” and continuing to be a part of the 1871 ecosystem as an alumni company.  

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