Voices of Change: Embracing Technology for Chicago’s Future

| Theresa E. Mintle

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.

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