March 2016

Recap — Chicago Civic Tech Leadership Breakfast

This week, Chicago’s tech leaders brought on a whole new meaning of “Rise and Shine.” At the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Civic Tech Leadership Breakfast, dozens of local leaders converged to discuss how we can use technology to help our neighborhoods grow and flourish. With speakers like Dr. Stephen A. Perkins, our own Shelley Stern Grach, Brenna Berman, and more, we were able to dig deep into areas of growth in which our city needs to focus their efforts. Thank you to all who joined us for a fruitful morning of conversation and collaboration!

Miss out on the Chicago Civic Tech Leadership Breakfast? Catch up on what you missed through our top picks of tweets below:

Cybersecurity — Avoiding Digital Fraud and Scams

In my previous, very family-oriented discussion on online safety, we talked about how all generations in the family need to be aware of, and vigilant, about online safety. We also provided some easy-to-remember tips for your family members. Now we would like to dig deeper into the various scams you need to be aware of, and the resources Microsoft is bringing to you and your community. This is critically important due to the staggering amount of questions and concerns about online fraud. Since May 2014, Microsoft has received over 200,000 customer calls regarding tech support fraud. From those calls, customers have completed over 110,000 surveys to provide additional information about their experience. Although our survey does not collect demographic information, we share the view of the FBI, FTC and U.S. Senate Aging Committee that these scams disproportionately impact seniors. To quote U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, “[T]hese fraudsters…cling to a seniors’ insecurity about technology to swoop in under the guise of assistance.”

Our guest author today is Courtney Gregoire, Senior Attorney in Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit, where she fights technology-facilitated crime against vulnerable populations including children and seniors. Please share this information widely with those you love and care about.

— Shelley Stern Grach

Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit

As part of my position in Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit, I witness digital scams that affect our most vulnerable users on a daily basis. In our technologically-driven world, those who are not digital natives are directly targeted for technological fraud and scams. In fact, tech support scams are one of the five most prevalent scams impacting aging parents. Our education efforts seek to combat this by advising consumers how to stay safe and use the internet wisely.

NBC Connecticut recently shared a story on thegrowing trend of tech scams, highlighting a common trend of scammers claiming to be from Microsoft. We worked with NBC Connecticut to provide consumers tips to stay safe — including our #1 tip: “Microsoft, other trusted partners, do not cold call you and ask for remote access or your credit card information or payment information.” If you receive a call from someone at Microsoft asking for access or your personal information, hang up and immediately report this issue here.

While we encourage those dealing with scams to contact us directly, our Microsoft Retail Stores are also offering in-store trainings on Avoiding Digital Fraud and Scams. These classes offer training on how to stay safe online and on your personal devices, as well as inform you of common scams and fraud to avoid. In the next two months, over 100 workshops will be held in 80 Microsoft stores nationwide. Find your local class here.

Read about more internet scams and frauds to avoid. Visit AARP and our Digital Crimes Unit Newsroom.

Women in Business: Transforming Challenges into Opportunities


Powerful Women….in STEM/STEAM…helping to ensure the success of the next generation of young women.

UIC-logoI had the pleasure to participate in a terrific conference on March 18 with a large group of students at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC). The focus of the overall conference was Women in Business with a keynote and a wide range of breakout sessions, focusing on Entrepreneurship, Life after College, and Work/Life Balance. The panel I participate on was focused on Women in Technology: Trending Tech Skills for the Best Business Talent. I shared the stage with a team of very impressive women:

  • Veronica Arreola, Director, Women In Science & Engineering Program Assistant Director, Center for Research on Women & Gender, UIC
  • Blagica Bottigliero, Vice President, Digital Media at ModSquad
  • Mary Beth Watson-Manheim, Professor of Information and Decision Sciences & Director of the PhD in MIS, UIC

The panel dialog focused on several questions, including:

  • What skills do women in tech need for the current marketplace?
  • What other skills (soft) are required which can differentiate women from the rest of the pack?
  • How can women in tech ensure they earn as much as their counterparts?

Each of the panelists had a different background, ranging from corporate to academic to entrepreneurship. Mary Beth and I concluded that we had met each other, both previously serving on committees related to the State of Illinois Workforce Board (small world). The conversation was highly interactive, with some terrific questions from the students. Appropriately, many were focused on how best to prepare for job interviews and how best to articulate their qualifications. We stressed that it’s important to do your homework (know what the average salary is in Illinois for your job category, be sure to understand health care benefits and other benefits such as tuition re-imbursement, etc.). I’ve already received several LinkedIn requests from the students and I’m following Blagica on Twitter!


Congratulations to UIC for the Women in Business program and best wishes for continued success to the students and faculty, who clearly are focused on economic mobility for the women of Chicagoland.

Voices of Change — What’s Going On: Getting In to Communities to Understand What Works

Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. We are inspired by the local leaders who make diversity a priority in their daily work. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we’re honored to celebrate women in our community who are carrying out the mission of civic engagement, leadership and empowering other women.

– Microsoft Chicago Staff


In 1971, lamenting a world of violence and brutality, Marvin Gaye released one of the greatest songs of all time, “What’s Going On.” This song resonated with me during my childhood, and I continue to see its themes reflected in Chicago.  

Like many, I wonder what’s going on in my city. In our communities of concentrated poverty, Chicago’s violence is up, opportunities are slow to reach the south and west sides, the state remains without a budget, teachers plan to strike, and people continue to struggle with safety, distrust, and disconnection. How can we move forward? I would like to start by suggesting we go back.  

Picket lines and picket signs / Don’t punish me with brutality

When I was in elementary school and the teachers went on strike, my excitement over an unexpected vacation was short-lived. Much to my dismay, my mother, a fourth grade teacher, rounded up all the kids on our block for daily school in our house. While I saw my mother’s move as preventing free time and fun, I now see that she was actually relieving community members of the stress of finding child care. This was a time when neighbors looked out for each other. From Mr. Rufus, who was always on hand to adjust attitudes and bike chains, to Mrs. Rowland, who always made her yard available for basketball and volleyball, our network protected us and kept us engaged.

Research shows that these old neighborhood habits may hold the key to new opportunities. In particular, community intergenerational networks facilitate advice, healthy child rearing, and informal supervision of children – all factors that contribute to social cohesion and foster trust and solidarity among residents. Harvard Economist Raj Chetty calls these Neighborhood Effects, and he is one of many researchers to determine them an important predictor of youth violence and crime. His work has linked these activities to reduced homicide, reduced fear of crime, and increases in a young person’s ability to avoid violent confrontations.

THE CHICAGO COMMUNITY TRUST_2015  Photography for the Trust's Centennial Photograph Book project by Photojournalist John H. White.

As a private fund with a public mission, Get IN Chicago is dedicated to discovering the most effective ways to reduce youth violence. We invest in promising programs steeped in evidence. A key goal is to help funders assess which programs offer the best return on their community investment as it relates to acutely high-risk populations. At the same time, we provide technical assistance to community-based organizations that enable them to better meet the needs of disadvantaged youth and their families.

You know we’ve got to find a way / To bring some understanding here today

Last year, GIC launched a youth baseball league in an effort to build trust between the community and police. Our findings, however, showed that the Englewood Police Youth Baseball League did much more than that. The data is in, and league participation was also associated with youths’ perceptions of greater empowerment, ability to make a difference in their community, and sense of their own agency. These encouraging results renew our assessment that community-based, community-led programs may additionally cultivate youth leadership skills and a broader commitment to better their neighborhoods.

CUL site visit 

In that vein, Get IN Chicago recently announced its Community Collaboration and Resident Empowerment (CCRE) initiative. Collaboratives from five communities hardest hit by poverty and violence on Chicago’s south and west sides received awards. The grants will provide planning dollars to convene and generate ideas from people whose lived realities tell the most complete story of what’s going on.  

Talk to me / so you can see / What’s going on

Get IN Chicago operates from the premise that crime is the result of unfavorable conditions within a community and not solely the actions of individuals within a community. We also believe that getting in to a community for a conversation is the best place to start effecting change. We believe in the strength of Chicago and the collective brainpower, resilience, and commitment of our city’s residents. We’re ready to listen and hear what’s going on. Moreover, we’re ready to work together to find a way forward.

Toni Irving, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the newly formed Get In Chicago, an innovative public/private partnership that seeks to strengthen communities hardest hit by poverty and violence.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Gabrielle Lyon, Chicago Architecture Foundation

Gabrielle Lyon

One thing that sets Chicago apart is its striking architecture. As a city that has rebuilt itself, and is constantly building and growing, it’s clear that architecture rests at the heart of Chicago’s culture.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) helps organize events like the Chicago architecture tour and work with over 700,000 people a year. 20,000 of them being kids who partake in their engineering and architecture classes. High school students are even allowed to apply for fellowships and work with CAF on specific projects.

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods, Gabrielle Lyon of the Chicago Architecture Foundation explores Chicago’s rich connection to its architecture and explains how these programs are making Chicago better day by day.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Gabrielle live on Advisor.TV.

Voices of Change — Connecting People With Science and Technology

Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. We are inspired by the local leaders who make diversity a priority in their daily work. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we’re honored to celebrate women in our community who are carrying out the mission of civic engagement, leadership and empowering other women.

– Microsoft Chicago Staff


I wasn’t particularly interested in science when I was in elementary school, but when first introduced to biology as a high school student, I got bit by the science bug. It probably had a lot to do with the teacher who was both enthusiastic and personable, and created an atmosphere of excitement and discovery that permeated throughout all of her lessons. I was really intrigued with human genetics, the workings of the human body and how its myriad parts and systems all integrated together to create the whole. From there on, my path began to lay out in front of me.

Following a short stint as a laboratory technician doing research on the impacts of cancer drugs on immune cells, I became very interested in immunology and decided to pursue a graduate degree in that field. My post-doctoral work continued the theme of host-pathogen interactions in the study of the molecular and cell biology of viruses. Although I loved the intellectual stimulation of an academic setting, over time I realized that my interests were even broader and low and behold, an opportunity to be an exhibit developer for an exhibition on genetics appeared from the Museum of Science and Industry. It was love at first sight!

Science is all about discovery. Scientists are continually searching for answers, seeking understanding, and expanding knowledge with the larger goals of figuring out how the natural world works; ultimately striving to make our lives and our world better. As a scientist leading the development of exhibitions at the Museum of Science and Industry, I’m empowered by the belief that the work that I, and the Museum, do really matters. We connect people with science; help them understand its relevance in their lives; and how to think about science as scientists do, with a critical eye and mind.

I love to hear exclamations of WOW when people first catch sight of the 40-foot-tall vortex in Science Storms, or round a corner and see the 200-foot-long U-505 submarine, see the wonder on kids’ faces as they watch baby chicks peck out of their shells in the Genetics exhibit, or watch families working together in Future Energy Chicago, a games and technology-based simulation that allows guests to design a more energy efficient city for the future. Throughout the Museum, there are countless moments for wonder, discovery, participation and human connection.

Technology can be a powerful tool for engaging people as it allows them to do something they couldn’t do otherwise. In YOU! The Experience, guests can see the blood rush through their own veins in the Vein Viewer interactive, make a 13-foot-tall virtual heart beat in time with their own, or use a face-aging software to fast forward to age 70 in Face Your Future.  They can explore a virtual interpretation of how a woman’s body changes during pregnancy in Make Room for Baby and see the trajectory of human development from conception to birth through some amazing computer-generated animation. Through the use of technology, guests visiting Science Storms can create a mini tsunami in a 30-foot-long wave tank, launch a tennis ball across a 60-foot space and measure its trajectory, or create chemical reactions using a virtual periodic table. Throughout MSI, guests can experience an extraordinary array of different kinds of technologies, from the historic to the futuristic.

We often use technology to engage people, particularly kids, in learning and discovery, but sometimes technology itself presents a compelling story. For example, we tell the biotechnology story at MSI with genetically engineered frogs and plants in Genetics and a bioengineered heart valve in YOU! The Experience. The human patient simulator iSTAN TM is a compelling piece of technology used to train medical professionals. Our guests and student audiences get to see and interact with this authentic medical simulation tool—a truly unique experience and something they would most likely never have an opportunity to experience.

Future Energy Chicago Learning Lab @ The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago

One of the most important things a museum can do is to change lives. People don’t necessarily expect that; they may think of a museum as a fun place to go with friends and family, a place to learn, or maybe see great art or artifacts. The Museum of Science and Industry’s mission is to inspire the inventive genius in everyone—the operative word being “inspire.”  MSI can be that spark that changes lives, opens up opportunities, or sets a child on a path to a career in science or engineering or medicine. It can be the place where people understand how science is a natural part of every aspect of our lives and that it can enhance and enrich our understanding of the world.

The Museum realizes its mission of inspiration through its dynamic, transformative exhibits and engaging science education programs. In creating these amazing experiences, we develop a wide range of partnerships with universities, technology companies, medical institutions and other research organizations in our efforts to bring current, relevant science content to the general public and our school audiences. Working with these diverse partners and with our creative teams of exhibit designers, developers and technology experts creates a synergistic environment in which we can bring science and technology to life for all of our audiences.

The world is becoming increasingly complex, and there are myriad opportunities for applying scientific thinking many arenas. The skills and habits of thinking that a person develops in the process of doing science can be applied to any number of fields. More and more, science is moving in the direction of increasing collaboration among different disciplines. The explosion of “big data” science is a good example of how developments in one field can further developments in others. For example, the massive amount of data begin generated through genome sequencing will enable the development of precision medicine, and this synergy among scientific investigation and the application of a variety of scientific perspectives to big challenges will push us even further forward.

Seeing more women in the sciences is important, but it’s not just about creating more female nuclear physicists, computer scientists, astronauts and engineers. A strong science education allows girls to gain skills relevant to many careers that involve critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration. And in a highly technological society like ours, the more people engage with science and technology, the more competitive and empowered we’ll be.

Dr. Patricia Ward provides broad science leadership across the Museum’s exhibition work, leading creative teams of exhibit developers, designers, writers, and media producers. In her 16 years at the Museum, Dr. Ward has produced exhibitions on various science topics including genetics, health, energy and climate change and has been active in numerous outreach efforts including public symposia and workshops for teachers and pre-college students. She develops partnerships with universities and other organizations that synergize with the Museum’s efforts to bring current, relevant science content to the general public and school audiences. Recent exhibition projects include the award-winning Future Energy Chicago and YOU! The Experience.

Dr. Ward earned a Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of Chicago and was a NIH post-doctoral fellow in Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology at the U of C before joining the Museum in 1999. Patty has published widely in the areas of tumor immunology, molecular genetics, and the cell biology of herpes simplex virus. She was a 2012 Noyce Leadership Institute Fellow and in 2013, was named a fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Moving Neighborhood Residents From Information Consumers to Change Agents

Shelley Stern Grach and Stephen Philpott

Ten years ago, there was widespread concern about the Digital Divide; people in poor neighborhoods had few PCs and little Internet access and thus couldn’t break into the mainstream economy. Today, smartphones have solved a lot of these problems: residents of low-income communities are more likely than more affluent communities to own and use smart phones as a communications vehicle where there is a lack of broadband access. But that’s just the start of what’s possible: moving from information consumers to builders of livable, affordable, sustainable communities through app development. The dilemma is that we need to provide neighborhood resources — coaches, mentors, meet-up places — so our Youth can learn how to transition from consumers to change agents.

All parents want the best for their children and success comes in many forms—economic, social, spiritual and so on. For purposes of today’s discussion, let’s focus on economic success, or what I would rather call “economic mobility”, which expresses the flexibility an individual has to chart their own course, having the personal toolkit and resources that will help them achieve their full potential. One key indicator of economic mobility in the 21st century is an individual’s STEM/STEAM skills. The Illinois Innovation Index has some interesting material about how to look at Talent and how to develop the toolkit resources.

I found the following information to be of high interest to parents and guardians as they nurture the path towards “economic mobility” and becoming a change agent:

From the perspective of Illinois’ tech economy, it is an undeniably positive sign that STEM graduates are a growing proportion of all graduates—and that Illinois has surpassed the national average for the first time in more than a decade. Heading into the next decade, Illinois STEM employers will benefit from the high proportion of graduate-level STEM talent and large pool of postdoctoral researchers in the state. Furthermore, the fact that one in five non-health STEM graduates is an immigrant shines a light on the importance of immigration reform to ensure the viability of our talent pool.

Meanwhile, Illinois’ tech economy is also growing. The increase in computer occupations and related industries is impressive, especially in the post-recession years. The startup economy is creating demand for software developers and hybrid jobs that require some programming or other advanced computer skills. Employment in R&D occupations and industries is showing some signs of growth for the first time in many years; this will be an important trend to continue observing. (source:

Positive outlook for those individuals who know they should focus on STEM/STEAM skills to build their toolkit. But….how do we help ensure that Youth in all of Chicago’s neighborhoods are aware of this opportunity, and how do we help ensure the Youth are exposed to positive STEM/STEAM experiences?

1609787_10152249821487784_1719439573_nFor the past four years, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) has sponsored an Urban Sustainability Apps Competition to unleash this creativity.  It gives neighborhood residents the opportunity to producer apps and app-enabled businesses that can improve their communities.

Microsoft’s local Civic Tech team has been partnering with CNT for several years and sponsored the Apps Competition last year. It was such a fabulous experience that we are pleased to once again be the presenting sponsor for the Competition in 2016.  Mark your calendars now for June 3-5 2016!

CNT has demonstrated the ability and commitment to rise above the typical hackathon by reaching into ethnically diverse communities and developing ways for technology to solve real problems facing impoverished neighborhoods. They tackle the issues of technology, creativity and act as role models to inspire young people to achieve economic mobility through the innovative use of technology. CNT’s Urban Sustainability Apps Competition works with community leaders and activists to define neighborhood problems, identify successful strategies to address them, identify the necessary information, and then build the apps to deliver those solutions. CNT is the whole package.

This process is underway now throughout Chicago in workshops sponsored by community-based organizations.  It will come to fruition at the weekend Competition (reminder: June 3-5) where teams will develop and present their apps to a panel of judges.  I was one of them last year and had a blast learning about how technology can help people reach economic empowerment. I also learned that it takes a “village”—all kinds of skills—technical, nontechnical, marketing, etc. After the Apps competition weekend,  the finalists will present to a much larger audience at CNT’s Sustain-A-City Celebration on June 16th.

We eagerly look forward to seeing the creativity that the Apps Competition calls forth from Chicago communities. This deep, localized focus of working with Chicago’s communities to identify key problems, then bringing together a wide range of skills and “personal toolkits” to solve those problems using simple, easy to access technology, is spot-on to help people achieve economic mobility. To be a change agent, you need to feel empowered. CNT provides the process, the people and the results.

Big Shoulders: Allie Barwise, Managing Director of ISTI

Allie BarwiseWe all know that education is our future. And with STEM fields rapidly expanding, creating new jobs and opportunities, we have to ensure that our future is solid through STEM education. With the Illinois Science and Technology Institute, we’re working to bring our passion in STEM to local youth ready to engage in their own futures.

Watch as Adam J. Hecktman explores the future of STEM with Allie Barwise, Managing Director of ISTI live on Advisor.TV.

Voices of Change — Putting Data in Local Hands

Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. We are inspired by the local leaders who make diversity a priority in their daily work. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we’re honored to celebrate women in our community who are carrying out the mission of civic engagement, leadership and empowering other women.

– Microsoft Chicago


Data Driven Detroit (D3) exists because we believe in the power of the equitable distribution of information. Our mission is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to use high-quality data and analysis to drive informed decision-making, and through our use of technology and our engagement in the civic realm, we seek to:

  • Help drive greater impact in our community using fewer dollars and less time;
  • Assist residents in advocating for the change they want for their own neighborhoods;
  • Set the stage for productive conversations using a transparent and common set of facts.

As I reflect on the role technology plays in D3’s work, I’m reminded of an interesting contrast between two similar projects. In our first year, we partnered with three local organizations to conduct the 2009 Detroit Residential Parcel Survey. The survey included a handful of questions about every residential parcel in the City of Detroit. We had a pretty fancy system for our surveyors at the time: clipboards with stacks of paper listing addresses and blank boxes for responses to each question, along with accompanying maps showing the streets, parcels, and addresses in the vicinity.

It took us months to data enter, merge, quality control, and create a clean database with the results of the survey. By that time, our results were surely inaccurate given the rapidly changing conditions of an urban environment like Detroit. Even so, the data proved invaluable to our community partners for the next several years, as these were the only data available at such a fine grain for the city.

This experience is probably why it felt like a miracle when we partnered with Loveland Technologies in 2014 to collect the same data, this time for all parcels in Detroit, using a mobile app. In just 35 working days, we were able to collect and quality control data on 380,000 parcels, and have a clean database ready for analysis less than a week after we finished in the field.

I’m 33 years old. I remember the amazement I felt working in DOS and writing commands in BASIC with my dad when I was five. It was only in my early adulthood that I realized how lucky I was to have that early exposure to technology, and how privileged I was by accident of birth. My career and my business are devoted to making data and technology more accessible to everyone who wants to make a difference in the world, and I find my colleagues and partners in Detroit are similarly dedicated to true community empowerment.

Motor City Mapping Project

Since 2014, technology has evolved even further to allow us to place the data collection process directly in the hands of the people who know most about their neighborhoods, and who stand to benefit the most from the information. Monique Tate is a self-titled “Community Activist” from an eastside neighborhood of Detroit known as Morningside. She worked with D3 as a Community Outreach Coordinator on the Motor City Mapping project and learned first hand how neighborhood datasets can create digital inclusion and level the playing field for localized challenges that otherwise wouldn’t get recognition, let alone consideration.

This last summer, with a technology we license called LocalData, D3 started a pilot program that allowed communities to collect the data that would be most valuable to their efforts. LocalData intuitively allows a user to make customized parcel- and point-based surveys for any community in the U.S.  Findings are automatically stored in a cloud server and viewable almost instantly. Monique was able to create her own customized survey, rally a team of local volunteers, teach them how to use the tool, and coordinate them on her survey plan.  Within days, they had completed a parcel-by-parcel survey for a prominent business corridor in Morningside.  What required a highly specialized group of individuals and resources in 2009 took a local activist a fraction of the time to achieve similar results in 2015.

Detroit is an interesting place to think about empowerment. Our residents are among the most resilient, fearless, and hopeful people I’ve met, and we always find a way to move forward with whatever we’ve got on hand. When you put the tools of technology into the hands of individuals who have this resourcefulness, the results can be inspiring. We can’t wait to see what 2016 will bring!

Erica Raleigh joined Data Driven Detroit (D3) as a founding member in 2009.  Now the Executive Director, she began as a Research Analyst, with a background in housing, community development, transportation, and public safety research.  She is the lead author on “Neighborhood disinvestment, abandonment and crime dynamics” which was awarded the 2014 Best Conference Paper Award at the Urban Affairs Association annual conference.

D3 houses a comprehensive data system that includes current and historic demographic, socioeconomic, educational, environmental, and other indicators, allowing analysts to illustrate complex relationships by combining different datasets to reveal the true stories of our regions, cities, and blocks.  D3 is committed to providing access to information that can drive better decision-making, believing that everyone should have equitable access to information to make the best decisions possible for themselves, their organizations, and their communities.

Raleigh holds a Master of Urban Planning from Wayne State University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Hispanic Studies from the University of Michigan.

Voices of Change: Embracing Technology for Chicago’s Future

Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. We are inspired by the local leaders who make diversity a priority in their daily work. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we’re honored to celebrate women in our community who are carrying out the mission of civic engagement, leadership and empowering other women.

— MSFT Chicago Staff


In today’s business landscape, it’s no longer about whether or not your company is using technology; every business is using technology. It’s about whether or not you’re successfully utilizing the technology available to grow your business and make an impact.

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce recognizes the growing importance of technology, and we know Chicagoland businesses do too – small businesses in particular. The results of our 2016 and 2015 Chicagoland Small Business Outlook Surveys reflect that.

Our 2016 survey, released January 19 of this year, revealed that 46 percent of Chicago area small businesses need help with technology. That number is nearly identical to our 2015 survey, in which 45 percent of respondents reported a need for tech support.

Answering the Call

Over the past two years, we have shaped our educational programming to address this need.

We hosted two “Top Tech Trends” panel discussions with leading technology experts that provided local businesses an opportunity to learn about innovations and best practices that are driving how businesses will use technology now and in the future. From self-driving cars to 3D printing to Chicago’s blossoming on-demand economy – we explored a wide range of the most disruptive technological topics on the forefront today.

Additionally, in partnership with our members SMB Help Desk and Microsoft, we are currently conducting a technology training webinar workshop series. Through this complimentary program, we are giving entrepreneurs, small business owners and local professionals the opportunity to participate in live webinars (or view a recording later) to equip themselves with tech tools and know-how to help grow their businesses.

Talent and Education

All of the surveys we have conducted over the past couple of years – our Member Surveys, Mid-Market Survey, and Small Business Outlook Surveys – have revealed that talent development and retention is something we really need to work on. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the technology sector.

I’m sure you’ve read about it or seen it on the news. Earlier this month, President Obama announced a $4 billion plan to provide all students computer science education in schools. The City of Chicago recently announced a plan that would make computer science a prerequisite for graduation by 2018. New schools dedicated to coding are popping up all over the nation.

STEM education is a major component of this. Research from the Illinois Innovation Index indicates that employees with STEM degrees have a significant and long-lasting impact on cities.

This is why the Chicagoland Chamber Foundation, in partnership with our member CompTIA, launched a pilot program last summer that placed high school interns with 14 of our Small Business Development Center clients. We even housed two interns at the Chamber offices in the Wrigley Building. This was part of the Early College STEM Schools (ECSS) program that provides students focused on information technology with the experience and skills they need in the workplace.

Setting the Foundation

Down the road, we plan to develop programming that connects our members and other Chicago businesses to meaningful intern opportunities and the students – including those at the college and even vocational level – to meaningful work-based learning experiences.  

This is all part of the process for building a pipeline that will funnel talent into Chicago’s diverse workforce and economy. We must also ensure that every business and individual, even those in underserved communities, has access to technology training and resources.

The Chamber’s mission is to make Chicagoland the best place to live, work and visit in the nation. To fulfill that mission, our businesses cannot afford to lag behind in tech. We must continue to build, continue to diversify, and do a better job showcasing our vibrant tech scene to the rest of the world.

Theresa is proud to serve as the fifth President and Chief Executive Officer of the 112 year-old Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. Theresa’s passion to grow the region’s economy and strengthen Chicago’s status as a world-class city, stems from her devotion to public service. She spent 27 years working at the federal, state and city levels of government. Theresa leads the Chamber’s strategic focus on small business growth, middle market expansion, international opportunities, industry-specific investment, technology innovation and regional collaboration.

Theresa is on the board of Choose Chicago; a director of the World Business Chicago Steering Committee; a member of the German Marshall Fund Leadership Development Advisory Council and Co-Chair of the Midwest selection committee; and a member of the President’s Circle of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs; The Economic Club of Chicago; and The Chicago Network.

In her free time, Theresa enjoys yoga, traveling with her husband, and reading biographies of US President with a hot cup of tea.