February 2016

Big Shoulders: Fabian Elliott, Black Tech Mecca

Fabian Elliott

How do we infuse technology into Chicago’s diverse and complex neighborhoods? How do we engage our minority youth in civic life and innovation? Fabian Elliott has one answer. During last year’s Techweek Chicago, Fabian introduced Black Tech Mecca, a group that is developing a thriving black tech ecosystem to empower the black community, propel the tech community, and introduce a new competitive advantage for the city.

Adam Hecktman’s latest Big Shoulders profiles Fabian Elliott and his driven work with Black Tech Mecca. Together, we can make a difference, bringing tech to the forefront by leveraging our diverse backgrounds and thoughts.

Watch Adam’s episode with Fabian Elliott live on Advisor.TV.


Chicago City Data Users Group: City of Chicago Planning & Development Data

You don’t have to be a developer to use Chicago’s rich sets of data!

As the principal planning agency for the City of Chicago, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) promotes the comprehensive growth and well-being of the City and its neighborhoods.  In this work, DPD principally uses three types of data:

  • quantitative research-driven data about who lives and works in our neighborhoods
  • qualitative observational data to provide context about the quality of our neighborhood environments
  • transactional project data which describes investments either planned or underway.

Join us on Wednesday, March 2 from 6pm — 7:30pm at the Microsoft Technology Center to hear how DPD would like to use these data to support better decision-making on how and where to invest scarce resources in order to maximize the benefits of our work for residents throughout Chicago.  Our presenter will be Brad McConnell, the Deputy Commissioner for Planning and Operations for the City of Chicago.

RSVP now!

Chicago Public Schools Announces Computer Science as Graduation Requirement

Computer Science Education Week at Chicago Public Library

Photo: Chicago Public Library

Chicago has a reason to celebrate today. As part of Chicago’s Computer Science for All (CS4All) initiative, the Chicago Board of Education unanimously approved the addition of computer science as a graduation requirement for all Chicago Public Schools high school students beginning with next year’s freshmen. This makes CPS the first major urban school district to make computer science a requirement for graduation.

We have witnessed first-hand the power of STEM education while working with Lake View High School, an Early College STEM School. Microsoft has been working with Lake View to provide curriculum, mentorship, and partnership, while working with their visionary teachers and leadership. The goal is to bridge the wide gap between demand for STEM professionals and the limited supply of students graduating with the matching skills. Chicago is doing its part to close that gap.

In working with CPS, Microsoft has now seen a glimpse into what the future of technology looks like, and it is extremely promising. Team Microsoft wishes to congratulate CPS and all the teachers, students and staff who have worked so hard to make this possible. Read on: 

New CPS Computer Science Graduation Requirement to Prepare Students for Jobs of the Future

What’s Your Perspective? LISC Chicago’s 22nd Annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards

Shelley Stern - LISC Chicago CNDA22

Let’s be candid. It’s been a rough several months for Chicago. Erosion of confidence and trust. Concerns about communities not having a voice. CPS and CTU ongoing debates. And the winter blahs on top of it.

All of which makes the context for LISC Chicago’s 22nd Annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA22) all the more remarkable in its spirit, scope and impact. CNDA is presented and managed by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation. LISC Chicago’s mission is to connect neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

As I wrote last Fall, I am a member of the Board of Advisors for LISC Chicago. It’s been an astonishing journey for me, as I have learned much more than I anticipated. About the exceptional work LISC and its partner agencies are doing; about the inextricable linkages between a local community vision and plan and neighborhood development; about how an individual’s self-perception improves with access to a clean, safe place to live.

Last fall, I spent one of the best days of my business career, visiting several of the potential honorees for the CNDA22. We crisscrossed the city to tour affordable living spaces, higher ed institutions, community and arts centers. We heard the backstories of the local communities and about how the architecture and design focused on staying “true” to the soul of the local residents. Out of this tour, and several others like it, came the following awards winners for CNDA22:

Since “tours” are a big deal in community redevelopment, let’s take a quick tour of some of the highlights of the CNDA22.

Rahm Emanuel - CNDA

Let’s start with the theme for 2016: What’s your perspective? This is really an insightful approach, as the theme spotlights the differences among us, and celebrates the dialog itself. It’s okay to disagree…because if we listen carefully to the ideas of others, we can make adjustments to our own. As Mayor Emanuel remarks, “Strong and healthy neighborhoods are essential elements of any pathway.”

DSCN9772The program started with a welcome from the fabulous Orozco Mariachi band, a part of the Chicago Mariachi Project. Microsoft had the honor of welcoming the guests to the Panel discussion and the Panel Moderator Brandis Friedman, of Channel 11 WTTW. We heard diverse opinions from local community leaders, Amisha Patel from the Grassroots Collaborative, Jack Markowski from Community Investment Corporation (CIC) and Raul Raymundo, from The Resurrection Project. We had a “call and response” with the panelists from R.A.G.E, Brinshore Development and a student leader, who urged the audience to focus on positive impacts for Chicago’s Youth. The Panel covered the following topical question areas: can the techniques and practices of development that are applied to one neighborhood necessarily work in another? Are neighborhoods strengthened because of highly effective grassroots neighborhood organizations? Or is success primarily a consequence of public policy decisions? Or the work of enterprising real estate developers? And what exactly is the measure of success?

It was clear to the 400+ attendees that the importance issue wasn’t how the question was answered, but that honest, candid dialog with all the stakeholders was essential.

After the panel, we moved to the actual Awards Ceremony, which was attended by nearly 1500 people from across a wide spectrum—developers (as in real estate, not software), architects, foundations, nonprofits, corporations, community activists, etc. You name it, they were there. Cheering on the award winners, captivated by the incredible videos which told the stories of the award winners (Please do this for me—just watch a few of these videos! I promise you, it’s worth your time.)

My favorite segments were the acceptance speech from architect Juan Gabriel Moreno of JCMA for the El Centro Campus of Northeastern Illinois University. El Centro was on our tour last fall and it is an amazing tangible declaration of support for the students and the community. Juan told the story of how his mother left Colombia to build a better life for their family. Today, Juan is a successful architect and he dedicated his award to his mother, and offered to start a scholarship for the El Centro students to travel the world, to inspire them to make an impact. Not a dry eye in the house.

My other favorite was the video that accompanied the award for the Town Hall Apartments, co-developed by the Heartland Alliance and Center on Halstead for affordable housing for LGBT seniors. This story focused on dignity for all and the creative approach to designing a place and space that is “home” and builds “family” for its residents. The seamless connections of the affordable residential unit with the landmark at the corner of 79th and Halstead is breathtaking.

Once again, I am reminded of the importance of the diversity of our communities, and how critical it is for local residents to have a voice in their neighborhoods. The CNDA22 Panel and Awards reached nearly 1500 people ….but the ongoing impact of the architects, developers, foundations, local community nonprofits and other groups, will be felt for years to come by thousands more throughout Chicago.

Recap: Celebrating the 22nd Annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards

Shelley Stern Grach

We can’t stop saying it: Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and it continues to grow. Last night, we saw some of the best Chicago has to offer at LISC Chicago’s 22nd Annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards. Every year, this awards ceremony spotlights innovators, creators, leaders, and teams who work together to help make Chicago better, neighborhood by neighborhood. And every year we’re inspired. All of us at Microsoft Chicago would like to extend our congratulations to this year’s winners, and to thank LISC Chicago for helping us be a part of something great.

See our top moments of the night below in tweets:

Voices of Change — Investing in Our Future by Encouraging Creativity and Innovation in Youth


Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. They can be determining factors in whether or not talented people come to work for us, and whether people buy our products. Through our investment in diverse partnerships on a broad range of opportunities, we continue to work to increase the pipeline of diverse talent, increase retention and match talent to job opportunities that are vital to our success in the future.This month, we are honored to feature the voices of local leaders who represent our commitment to diversity and use their drive to help the community in which they serve.

— Microsoft Chicago Staff

Science is more than a body of knowledge or a portfolio of skills. It’s a way of thinking and seeing the world that makes innovation possible. Science allows us to recognize our biggest challenges and create solutions.

Our future depends on encouraging creativity, innovation, collaboration and critical thinking in students. Just 10 years from now, today’s sixth-graders will be entering the workforce, and even sooner if they don’t pursue a four-year college degree. That’s not much time to help them grow, learn and prepare for a world that’s changing quickly.

Fundamentally, STEM is a set of tools, processes and ways of interpreting the world that allows us to ask the most poignant questions, challenge paradigms, test possibilities and create solutions. Personal, relevant, and high-quality experiences with STEM in childhood can be the spark needed to build a pathway into STEM. STEM literacy can move people from consumers to creators, from participants to providers.

Black Creativity 2014 Innovation Studio

The development of doers and game-changers happens not only in school, but in homes and communities and places like libraries and parks and museums. Youth are learning and developing all the time, so there are many opportunities to have an impact.

Historically, having a diverse group of people and perspectives can lead to the most innovative ideas and creative solutions. The current American workforce of scientists and engineers doesn’t mirror our national population. Women comprise half of the American population, and more than a third of Americans belong to a racial or ethnic minority group, but are highly underrepresented in most STEM fields. Participation of these groups can expand our ability to discover, invent and transform our future. We also need to create and sustain more inclusive environments for all youth in K-12 and higher education to ensure they are positioned to be not only present but also engaged and successful in pathways to STEM careers.

The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) is redefining the role museums play in science learning and achievement. Through our Center for the Advancement of Science Education, we’re extending the content of world-class exhibitions with programs that engage students, teachers, families and communities. One of the ways we do this is through the Museum’s annual Black Creativity program. This effort reaches more than 25,000 students, their teachers and families in underserved Chicago neighborhoods each year with a wide range of targeted, culturally-relevant science education programming designed to:

  • Provide exposure for African-American youth to careers, educational pathways and other opportunities in STEM.
  • Increase access to MSI and its resources to African-American students and families.
  • Showcase African Americans and their contributions, past and current, to STEM fields.

The Black Creativity Innovation Studio – a technology-based DIY approach – is stocked with tactile materials and tools to encourage hands-on experimentation. The Juried Art Exhibition showcases creativity with more than 100 works from African-American artists across the nation, including youth. And special events like Jr. Science Cafes invite youth to be inspired by talking with working STEM professionals.

MSI is investing in our nation’s future. Together, let’s create stronger communities, a thriving workforce and innovative solutions for the world.

Learn more at www.msichicago.org/blackcreativity.

Dr Rabiah Mayas in the Fab Lab @ the Museum of Science and Industry

Rabiah Mayas, Ph.D. is the Director of Science and Integrated Strategies in the Center for the Advancement of Science Education (CASE) at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago. Rabiah’s primary role is to oversee several initiatives that span multiple departments and program areas within CASE: design and implementation of program evaluation and research, coordination of digital learning initiatives, development of public programming for youth and adults, and facilitation of the integration of cutting-edge scientific content throughout Museum programming.

Department of Defense to move 4 million devices to Windows 10

Government agencies, like large enterprises everywhere, are constantly facing new and emerging challenges, which can range from a constantly shifting threat landscape to managing multiple platforms and devices across their IT environments. And the modern threat landscape has never been more challenging — driving tremendous costs and risk to the security of critical information. Federal, state and local governments around the world, including several agencies in Chicago, are betting big on Microsoft technologies to help them protect against these cyber threats.

Today, Microsoft announced the latest federal agency to take advantage of a Microsoft solution: the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The Secretary of Defense has directed all U.S. DoD agencies to begin the rapid deployment of the Microsoft Windows 10 Secure Host Baseline (SHB) throughout their respective organizations for information systems currently utilizing Microsoft operating systems. From laptops to desktops to mobile devices, the DoD has a goal of deploying Windows 10 within a year.

In our region, this means that DoD agencies in the Chicago, such as the Great Lakes Training Center Navy Base in North Chicago will likely be planning for adoption of the new Secure Host Base for their Windows environments.

“The Department of Defense is leading the way towards modernizing and strengthen its security infrastructure,” said Susie Adams, Chief Technology Officer for Microsoft Federal. “This is a great example of the strategic way in which all enterprises can adopt Windows 10 to optimize their response to cyber threats, while also reducing costs and streamlining the IT operating environment.”

For more on the DoD’s migration to Windows 10, check out the Windows for your Business blog.

Break New Ground at the Cross Border US-Canada Hackathon

I like hackathons. I like IIT’s Idea Shop. I like breaking new ground. Lucky for me, these are all coming together. For the first time ever on the weekend of February 26th-28th, the Department of Homeland SecurityState Department, the U.S. Chamber of CommerceDickinson-Wright and Northof41.org have collaborated to host a Cross Border U.S.-Canada Hackathon. This is a friendly competition between hackathon teams in Chicago and Toronto to see which city can create the most unique apps.

The goal of the U.S.-Canada hackathon is to develop APIs that will integrate with the Department of Homeland Security’s open data in order to simplify the importing/exporting process for entrepreneurs on both sides of the border. Microsoft will be a corporate partner, contributing developer tools, cloud services, and expertise to help teams utilize the best of the cloud as part of their project submissions.

By way of background, Canada and the U.S. have pursued significant initiatives that promote exports and cross-border investment, as well as negotiated trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), and most recently in the news the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) to open new markets.  These efforts have resulted in more companies than ever engaged in cross-border trade.  However, these increased volumes of trade require enhanced electronic platforms to serve all cross-border companies – that is, from large multi-nationals to small-and medium-sized entities.

The winning teams will be awarded cash and prizes totaling over $15,000.  In order to join in the fun, RSVP to: https://crossborderhackathonchicago.splashthat.com/

Follow the discussion on Twitter: @northof41 #time2trade #letsmovethings #uscanadahackathon

Conversations on College, Careers, and Civic Engagement

Career Advancement Seal RGB

The University of Chicago focuses on preparing their students for life beyond college, through rigorous academics, community engagement and programs that provide the students exposure to various workforce opportunities—professional, corporate, entrepreneurial, and so forth. One of the more intimate and impactful programs is the Executive Speaker Series. The Executive Speaker Series for undergraduates provides a small-group forum for Senior Leaders at the forefront of business to share their experience and insight with undergraduates in the College. Two of The University of Chicago’s Career Advancement programs, UChicago Careers in Entrepreneurship and UChicago Careers in Business, are helping students explore a mission-driven career in business with the Executive Speaker Series. The Executive Speakers Series for the 2015-2016 academic year focuses on the topic of “Achieving Meaning and Service in Your Professional Career”. The Series offers meaningful engagement for UChicago students with Senior Leaders whose perspective can shape and add value to their pursuit of a professional career. UChicago has 6-7 speakers presenting during the academic year, around 2 per quarter. See a quick overview of this year’s speakers, with the upcoming addition of Jay Rasulo, former CFO of Disney, to the lineup.

Run by my friend Jerry Huang, UChicago Careers in Entrepreneurship (UCIE) Senior Program Director, Nancy Schaller, UChicago Careers in Business (UCIB) Senior Program Director and Elena Danos, UChicago Careers in Business (UCIB) Program Coordinator, the Executive Speaker Series is offered through the UChicago Careers in Business, Career Advancement department. Jerry, Nancy and Elena contacted me to see if Microsoft would meet with the students to discuss the Civic Tech movement and think through how the students could become more engaged. I jumped at the opportunity.


First—University of Chicago! You may know that my daughter is a 2015 graduate of the College so our family has strong emotional ties to the University. Want to learn how to burst into tears on cue? Sit in Rockefeller Chapel, watching the incoming cohort walk down the aisle while the magnificent E.M Skinner Pipe Organ plays. Microsoft also has many civic ties to the University, which we have discussed in our previous blogs. These include the Office of Civic Engagement’s Civic Leadership Academy and the recently announced Digital Alliance with the University’s Community Programs Accelerator. Our CEO Satya Nadella is a graduate of the Booth School of Business.

Second—The Students! Smart, international in both background and focus, committed, inquisitive, willing and wanting to make the world a better place. The students’ academic focus areas included Economics, Computer Science, International Studies and “Undecided”. Our conversation started with the Civic Tech movement, what it is, how its growing and some of the key organizations in the Chicago area. We discussed how civic engagement can be the great equalizer, crossing demographic and economic artificial boundaries. But we also discussed how lack of access to broadband and digital skills training can be a huge barrier to improving one’s life and neighborhood. The students are looking for careers in public service, nonprofits and policy. They love Chicago and their questions were spot on regarding how to use open data, digital skills and public private partnerships to impact economic growth, improved education and improved public safety.

Univ of Chicago Jerry Huang Jan 2016.pptxWe also turned to very current topics to illustrate the point that policy and government oversight need to be balanced with the local community having a voice in what’s important and essential. We discussed the Water Crisis in Flint as an example of an underserved community not having the voice, the social media network and impact and guidance on how to be heard. After the program, several of the students inquired on how to get “started and connected” in Civic Tech and Civic Engagement. It’s inspiring to see our next generation focused on making the world and their local communities better places, and having a resource like the University of Chicago Executive Speakers Series to make those connections come alive.

Voices of Change — Black Community + Tech Ecosystem Development = Unleashed Potential

Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. They can be determining factors in whether or not talented people come to work for us, and whether people buy our products. Through our investment in diverse partnerships on a broad range of opportunities, we continue to work to increase the pipeline of diverse talent, increase retention and match talent to job opportunities that are vital to our success in the future.This month, we are honored to feature the voices of local leaders who represent our commitment to diversity and use their drive to help the community in which they serve.

— Microsoft Chicago Staff



Tech sector diversity is a piping hot topic today especially when it comes to the workforce and venture capital stats for the black community. However, technology has a much bigger role to play for the black community than just jobs and new enterprises. Vast untapped potential lies dormant in the black community and technology is the most promising catalyst to unlock it. With the alarming rates of social and economic racial injustice today, unlocking this potential is a vital matter of survival. Please allow me to provide some background on how we got to this point, how technology can help, and what needs to happen to progress forward.

How we got here?

The underrepresentation of blacks in tech is not a coincidence or mystery, but rather the continuation of a dreadful trend. Our country’s tragic racial history has kept many black people out of certain occupations and behind on the major industrial shifts that have occurred. In the 19th century, black people were skilled in many trades, however access was largely limited to agriculture and menial professions such as house help. Even the famous abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, was brutally beaten and had his eye nearly knocked out of its socket due to racial employment tensions on the docks of Baltimore. Yet, once the demand for workers in those once barred areas reached new highs, black people were welcomed in with “open arms” leading to movements like the great migration that built the nucleus of the black population today in Chicago at the dawn of the 20th century. Unfortunately, as we settled into these new opportunities, it was not long before the digital revolution arrived and completely changed the landscape leaving us to play catch up, once again.

How can technology help?

Technology leveraged correctly can make an impact through community problem solving and wealth building. Right now, most problems that receive technical solutions are problems that only the people who have the know-how or resources care about, which leaves those that do not and their problems largely left unsolved. Imagine if wethe black communitywere properly equipped to solve tough challenges leveraging technology, challenges such as unemployment, mass incarceration, or gun violence. Many of these issues have economic roots, which is why wealth building is so important. Unfortunately, black people still lag far behind in median incomes and net worth figures including ⅓ of the black community in Chicago living in poverty, but technology could help make gradual improvements. There is growing job demand and higher salaries to be claimed due to the limited supply of talent. Chicago’s tech economy alone employs over 54,000 people, according to World Business Chicago. For entrepreneurs, there is now the ability to disrupt literally any sector by applying an innovative tech solution and creating incredible value.

What do we do now?

smart-goals1The current situation has very deep systemic roots and requires a systematic solution. To unlock the potential of the black community, we must focus on building tech ecosystems that enable community members to seamlessly navigate people, information, and resources needed to improve their lives with technology. Connections between resource providers must be strengthened. For instance, there is no reason why the 3rd grade coding organization should not be in collaboration with the group that serves 4th graders. A stronger black tech community must be built where we know and support each other. We must find a comprehensive way to measure these ecosystems to better understand what’s going right and what’s going wrong. This will put us in a better position to enhance existing programs and fill gaps to progress the ecosystem forward.

Understanding where we have been, the potential impact of technology, and where we need to go is the primary motivation for my work with Black Tech Mecca. We are a collaborative community initiative that is building a thriving black tech ecosystem in Chicago through strengthening connections, measuring impact, and directing growth for individuals, organizations, and companies. Visit us at www.BlackTechMecca.org to find out more information.

Fabian Elliott HeadshotFabian Elliott is a ‘Hybrid Entrepreneur’ as Founder & CEO of Black Tech Mecca Inc. His latest endeavor entails transferring what he was able to create within a company to the city he has come to love, by leading the charge to transform Chicago into the ‘Global Black Tech Mecca’. Outside of the tech world, Fabian is past Secretary for the 100 Black Men of Chicago Inc., Next Generation Board Member for American Civil Liberty Union of Illinois, and is a member of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.