Feb 02, 2022 | 4 min read

3 Ways Chicago Leaders Can Support Technological Innovation

By: Lisa Koci

How Three Organizations are Making Chicago an Innovation Hub

At one of our recent Innovative Executives League roundtable events, three key players in the Chicago ecosystem discussed making the city more transformative with fresh initiatives and forward-thinking ideas. Thanks to organizations like these, Chicago has the potential to become a global innovation hub. Learn how these organizations and their leaders are overcoming Chicago’s biggest challenges with their passion for supporting innovation and change.

1. Create opportunities for students and diverse businesspeople.

P33 works collaboratively with Chicago communities to make our region a global tech leader where all people thrive. They focus on creating a robust ecosystem around quantum, life science, and deep tech innovation in Chicago.

Desiree Vargas Wrigley, Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director at P33, discussed the major problems Chicago faces, including a lack of opportunities in innovation for students, especially those who are black or Latinx. Seventy-one percent of STEM majors in the city are dropping out of college before their senior years; graduating students are unclear on how to get a job or what skills they need for a career in innovation.

P33 is solving these issues by allowing freshmen STEM majors to start building connections early with Chicago’s tech companies and undertake skills-based pro bono work with them. The result is that students get a more accessible career path at the start of their college education.

Another idea to support innovation is to fund business people from diverse backgrounds. That approach could help solve the funding disparity for non-white start-up founders. Currently, the average funding for a while male founder is $120,000, while black or Latinx founders get somewhere between $5,000 to $35,000. P33 executes pitch competitions for diverse start-ups, matching them with previous series A or B seed funders for more lucrative investment opportunities. They also enable faster access to capital, so founders stay in Chicago.

2. Support investments to foster collaboration and attract “armies of entrepreneurs.”

TechNexus Venture Collaborative helps leading corporations and ambitious entrepreneurs work together to create new business models, new revenue streams, new products, and markets. Fred Hoch, Founder and General Partner, strives to attract talent from around the world to Chicago. They helped start the Chicago Tech Academy as a tech school with primarily disadvantaged students in the city, soon learning that they just needed someone to believe in them. “We have an incredible source of talent in the south and west sides of the city,” Fred said. “No one presented them with ideas or opportunities.”

Fred believes Chicago’s talent pool is still “vastly unleveraged” with insufficient funding opportunities or strong investment networks. “What we need to do is find a central siren call for Chicago that attracts and imports people and ideas into the city,” he added. “That siren call is called reinvention. We need to become the reinvention capital of the world.”

Fred says Chicago has 13 strong industries, many leading firms, and plenty of customers, so there’s no reason not to bring more innovation to the city. However, half of the previous Fortune 500 companies have disappeared in the last five years, and there’s a dire need for more C-level positions in Chicago.

His solution is for large corporations to focus on relationships and build venture ecosystems that center less on acquiring businesses and more on creating “armies of entrepreneurs” who support, cohabitate, and collaborate. Corporations that achieve this goal can become more effective at growing in new ways. Other tips for better Chicago innovation include making small investments that foster collaboration and tapping into venture capital already being spent in the city.

3. Work alongside other entrepreneurs to get innovative ideas off the shelf.

1871 is a nonprofit that supports early-stage, growth-stage, and corporate innovators. They believe all Chicago-based companies, young or established, should attract talent, external innovation, and internal innovation. By leveraging the city’s unique ecosystem, 1871 creates an “industry innovation lab” that encourages organizations to collaborate to disrupt industries, acquire or partner with small companies, and leverage untapped talent. The nonprofit believes there should be a connected ecosystem with areas of specialty and focus.

At the Roundtable, Stephanie Miller, Chief Experience Officer at 1871, mentioned that one of the biggest problems impeding innovation is that so many corporations let innovative ideas sit on the shelf. In response, 1871 created a program where innovation leaders from corporations work alongside other entrepreneurs to get these ideas up and running.

Drive Innovation at Your Organization

P33, TechNexus, and 1871 are spearheading change in a city with enormous potential for true innovation. Chicago could soon become a more fair, diverse, creative, and innovative center for entrepreneurship with these groundbreaking ideas and initiatives.

Are you interested in getting involved? Apply to become a member of the Innovative Executives League and join us at our next meeting!

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