In Review: The State of Chicago Tech by Fred Hoch, ITA CEO

August 02, 2016 Sarah Mueller

Working in talent development at One North means that my primary focus is split in two. First, on keeping the talent at One North happy, and second, on keeping tabs on the talent market in Chicago, specifically honing in on the technology scene.

I was particularly interested in seeing Fred Hoch, CEO of ITA, who addressed the state of the technology industry in Chicago at this year’s Sage Summit. Chicago is certainly a growing tech hub, and his talk verified the importance and responsibility of tech companies to build awareness and proactively help the community to develop.

Hoch spoke to the five key players in the industry: start-ups, growth-stage companies, industry leaders, universities, and corporations. On average, 8 out of 10 start-ups fail. The good news is, in Chicago, there is an abundance of start-ups.   You must have as many start-ups as possible to statistically find success, which is also good for growing communities.

Koch went on to talk about the progression of growth stage companies:  there are over 2,000 in Chicago who are actively focusing on scaling their business. Growth-stage companies are a huge attribute to our tech community and unfortunately, their story frequently goes untold.

On the cusp of major industry evolution are industry leaders, which Koch believes is a part of our industry that is about to sky rocket. He mentioned some key players in the market today such as kCura and Enova, but predicts that within the next 5-7 years, we can expect to see more tech industry leaders rise, particularly in B2B.

Another major contributor to our Chicago tech community: universities. Chicago has some tremendous schools that teach computer science. Microsoft hires more students from University of Illinois – Champaign/Urbana than any other school in the country. There is amazing, emerging talent here, but the challenge is to keep the talent in Chicago.

The fifth key-player in the industry is corporations. Unlike some other tech hubs like Seattle or Denver, we have almost 50 Fortune 500 companies in the region. These corporations are helping to transform the industry.  Start-ups gain customers and the corporations gain innovation. Chicago’s high start-up numbers and success rate truly speak to its unique tech community.

While these 5 key players make a major impact on the evolution and growth of the Chicago tech scene, there are 4 other key elements that play into the industry: capital, talent, government, and ecosystem, all of which play as huge opportunity areas for tech-based businesses.

Traditionally, entrepreneurs in Chicago are bootstrapped, but things are starting to change. Hoch’s goal is to see 5-6 billion of venture capital go to Chicago tech companies, up from the 1.3 billion that was spent last year.

Chicago historically attracts talent into the city for business, but is not a common destination for techies. Circling back to the universities that produce such great talent, it is imperative that tech companies in Chicago are doing their part to ditch their humility and talk more about major wins and successes.

ITA is doing their part to not only keep local talent, but to seek out talent across the country by visiting 21 different universities this year and telling Chicago’s story to computer science students.

The government has a responsibility to promote the industry as well (and, frankly, get out of the way so that tech companies can soar). Chicago faces some major socioeconomic challenges, but Koch feels that change is on the way.

It’s important to consider the tech ecosystem in Chicago. Koch reflected back to 10 years ago when there were no hack-a-thons or nightly meet-ups, which is certainly not the case today. Thanks to organizations like 1871 and TechNexus, the ecosystem has evolved dramatically.

Ultimately, it is up to all of us in Chicago tech to collaborate with one another to overcome the challenges, continue to keep communication about growth constant and work together to produce something great.


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Sarah Mueller Head of Talent & Organization Development

At the time of publishing, Sarah was Head of Talent & Organization Development at One North.

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