Disruption. It seems to permeate life right now: in business, in politics, it’s all around. An age of change encompasses us. An era where the old ways of living and doing business are disappearing daily. It is, frankly, unsettling and profoundly affecting the way we live and work. For Chicago tech, it’s time to realize that robust leadership is needed in the face of this disruption if we are to move forward in Illinois.
The Chicago business community has a long, distinguished history. Buildings named after companies founded hundreds of years ago dot the city’s skyline, with many more superstructures constructed in recent decades. We have always had a remarkable business community. Entrepreneurial and diverse across a litany of traditional industries, it’s depth is a strength envied throughout the country. That strength, though, has always been hardened by leaders who recognized that engagement in the public domain drove the success of the state and their business.
Today, that same vigorous and laudable business community is under siege. Disruption is happening faster than we can react and it promises to upend our companies. Firms that have led Chicago for many decades from logistics, to manufacturing, to insurance to transportation and beyond. Forward-looking companies are embracing this change through partnership and innovation. Those same companies are looking for new partners to address our current turmoil in the public domain.
Over the past decade, Chicago tech has grown substantially. Some indicators show that it has doubled from 3% of Chicago’s GDP to almost 8%. It is the bright light in an otherwise rough Illinois landscape. Indeed, the tech industry may be the savior of the Illinois economy.
Almost weekly, I hear from a gubernatorial candidate on both sides of the aisle inquiring about the tech industry. What does the tech industry need? What about women in tech? What about talent and capital? What, what, what? How do we keep this train rolling? They are looking for answers.
It’s not a simple answer, but we know that the public domain can play a role in our success. The days of just “cheerleading startups” and watching growth are over. For the tech industry to keep driving forward and keep playing a significant economic role in our state, the industry and government must work together to tackle the questions of the future - what are we doing about education? How can we entice capital to the city? What is the state doing to drive Chicago to become the center of talent in the Midwest? How can the state support R&D and early-stage investment? How do we support and push more women and diversity into the tech industry? What can government do to drive growth for the tech companies?
We must collaborate. We need to create a marriage between our tech and industry leaders, both new and seasoned, with forward-thinking and engaged public officials.
We must get engaged. We have solutions, but we rarely voice our ideas and opinions. The answer is not just about the application of technology to problems, but about leadership from the tech industry in tackling instructional issues and engaging with new friends. The leaders of our state are looking for real answers. The way of doing business, attacking problems, in the same manner, isn’t working.
Tech leaders, it’s time to disrupt. Let’s be the leaders the state desperately needs.