On June 28th, Mashable released a great infographic about “How Your Company Can Attract Top Tech Talent.” In Chicago and the surrounding Midwest region, it really should be “How our City and Region Can Attract Top Tech Talent.” We have been discussing the importance of increasing STEM and STEAM skills with our youth, and focusing on how the education system, nonprofits, THRIVE Chicago, and the city wide STEM Plan can dramatically accelerate the local talent pool. Thus helping to position Chicago and the region as a global hub for innovation. But what can we do right now to attract the talent we need today?
All over Chicago—from 1871 to Blue 1647 to Pullman and Englewood to UI Labs—there is a hive of activity, fueled by startups, young entrepreneurs, emerging industries in health and manufacturing, as well as mainstays like Boeing, Microsoft and Google. The race is on for developers, software engineers, creative types who combine art, design and marketing. The winner of the race will be determined by who can attract the talent needed to be the most innovative. Here is one great solution to attracting top tech talent…ThinkChicago! – Shelley Stern Grach
When Rahm Emanuel became Mayor of Chicago, one of his earliest initiatives was to invite students of computer science and engineering from around the Midwest to explore the city’s vibrant technology scene. He learned on the campaign trail that even though Chicago is the U.S. Heartland’s largest city, entrepreneurs starting new businesses here can have a difficult time recruiting the top talent needed to build innovative technologies that can turn their fledgling companies into major players.
Established companies from the coasts, like Microsoft, Google and LinkedIn, already recruit from top engineering schools in the Midwest like University of Illinois, University of Michigan, IIT and Purdue. But there was not much chance for those students to learn about the rich ecosystem developing in Chicago, and the opportunities available at Chicago born-and-bred companies like Motorola, Groupon, Orbitz, and GrubHub; let alone the fact that Google, Microsoft, and LinkedIn all have a major presence in the city.
Enter Mayor Emanuel’s solution — ThinkChicago. In 2011 the Mayor invited some of the brightest students from universities around the Midwest to explore Chicago’s scene during Chicago Ideas Week — one of the countries largest ideas festivals. The win/win goal was not only to show the visiting students what a great place Chicago is to work and live after college, but also to directly connect innovative companies with the talent they need to take their business to the next level.
ThinkChicago continued during Chicago Ideas Week 2012, and in 2013 the Mayor announced the addition of ThinkChicago: Lollaplaooza. The organizers of the nation’s largest urban music festival suggested showcasing the rich lifestyle in addition to the rich job opportunities that Chicago offers young tech talent. Now, in 2014, both the Lollapalooza, and Chicago Ideas Week editions continue.
This year the Mayor invited 125 students to ThinkChicago: Lollapalooza. They were chosen from over 1,000 applicants based on their interest in digital technology, computer science, innovation, and/or entrepreneurship. Participating students also demonstrated a commitment to excellence as evidenced by academic honors, leadership ability, extracurricular activities, and/or professional achievement. They came from schools like MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, Berkeley, Carnegie-Mellon, Princeton, and London School of Economics.
It may seem like a lot to offer a relatively small group of college students, and to be sure, it’s difficult to measure the impact right away. But no matter how you slice it, the more than 500 top students who’ve come through the program to date, whether they choose to live and work in Chicago or not, will Think about Chicago in a way they may not have before.
Jake Trussell is a designer, media producer, and dot-connector who leads strategic initiatives across creative and technology industries at World Business Chicago — a public/private economic development organization chaired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel — where he serves as Creative Director. He tweets as @jtrus.