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Momentum and Energy in Chicago Technology

The following comments are an abridged version of my opening remarks at the 2011 ITA CityLIGHTS Awards Gala. I welcome your thoughts. It’s my honor to welcome you to the 2011 ITA CityLIGHTS Awards Gala. Tonight we celebrate a remarkable set of companies and individuals who represent not only some of the best of our community, but also the best of Illinois. Getting to tonight, we set new records in every part of the process: number and quality of nominations, stature and commitment of the judges, and voting…over 6300 individuals cast vote. It is going to be fun to see who wins. While I have given these opening remarks before, I have to say this year feels different to me. Our technology industry is going through an incredible period of growth and vibrancy. Funding and support of start-ups is skyrocketing. Over 100M was invested in start-ups in the past four months. Growth companies are finally getting their stripes, gaining recognition, being acquired and I hear that even a few local ones might IPO. Industry bell weathers are not only leading locally, as they always have, but also are leading nationally. There is a palpable energy in the community now that has been building for the past few years and it is starting to explode. Across the board, the Illinois’ technology industry is emerging as a leader in the nation, and is poised for some amazing times ahead. Tonight is a celebration that adds to that momentum. ITA has come a long way as a contributor to this momentum. We started from a small office over 6 years ago and today we are over 700 members strong. Currently:

  • We execute multiple programs focused in collaboration, acceleration, visibility and talent.

  • We foster the collaboration of hundreds of companies and executives each month.

  • We consult monthly with dozens of companies, individually, to support accelerated growth

  • We produce over 150 events a year to grow the Illinois technology industry.

  • We have worked in partnership to establish TechNexus, the Illinois Technology Foundation and the charter high school Chicago Technology Academy.

But just as the industry is entering its next phase….so is ITA In response to the needs of the community, we’ve set on tackling two new areas to prime the pump of growth for our members and the community. The first is in TALENT. We all bemoan the tremendous talent gap locally. Frankly, we got sick of hearing it so we decided to do something about it. And we believe it begins with retaining the top technical talent from Illinois universities. It is not acceptable to have 75% of the CS/CE graduates leave the state upon graduation which is what we were hearing. So we came up with the ITA FALL CHALLENGE. Through our inaugural run last year we met with hundreds of students at 7 universities and began a dialogue about what was going on locally. It was shocking to see how little they knew about companies in Chicago. Even Groupon was barely on their radar. We then put the students through a testing process and brought the top 50 together in Chicago in November for a final challenge. They competed and we award the top student a $5000 prize. More importantly though they met with local firms to see if there was a fit. To date over a dozen of them have been hired by companies in this room. It may not be huge but if we can retain 12, 24, 48 top technical students, the possibilities for innovation and start-ups are exponential. I have no doubt these students will have a profound impact the landscape over the next decade. We are doing it again this year and doing more. Soon we will be introducing new programs focused on commercial talent & technology – making sure we have the marketing, product development and program managers, we need to drive this industry forward. Talent will be critical to all our successes. The second area to prime growth is in ADVOCACY. The technology industry has been to large degree an afterthought in discussions of the Illinois economy. That needs to change. We are actively and vocally engaging with state, federal & local government to drive public/private collaboration that will benefit and support the growth of the technology industry in Illinois. There is a lot of work to do but with the size of our membership, we have a solid platform to provide the best view of what the industry needs. Of course, we can’t do it alone and collaboration is going to be critical. On this front I would like to take a second to recognize two national organizations here tonight that are collaborators with us in these efforts: TechNet…With us is Rey Ramsey, the President and CEO of TechNet, a national, bipartisan network of CEOs that promotes the growth of technology industry and innovation; Daniel Liutikas of CompTIA a national organization advancing the global interests of IT professionals and companies. These organizations are key partners and you will be hearing a lot more from them and us on this going forward. Talent, advocacy, collaboration…more than ever before, ITA is committed to growing the local tech industry and to working to see Chicago recognized in its rightfully place as a national center of technology and innovation. I have not doubt that in a few years we’ll look back at this time as just the start of an era that saw the local industry grow to 10 times its current size and strength and one in which it becomes the driving force of Illinois’ economy. Tonight please enjoy celebrating the awardees and continuing the momentum.

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