Thursday, July 28, 2011


U.N. Press Corps Explores Chicago's Innovation Ecosystem

Earlier this month World Business Chicago hosted a delegation of visiting foreign journalists and, with the help of Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center President and CEO Kevin Willer, led them on a tour through some of Chicago’s most innovative companies. The journalists were exploring how certain American cities are utilizing economic development initiatives to work their way out of the recession, and we offered to show them how Chicago’s growing tech startup culture is doing just that.

The first stop was Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy in downtown Chicago. This visually stunning “working lab” aims to erase the boundaries between the classroom and the real world; churning out everything from music videos and video games to graphics that burst into flame – no kidding. The school already has real-world clients with names like Beyonce, Microsoft, Tyra Banks and McDonalds. Tribeca Flashpoint CEO Howard Tullman gave a tour to the throng of fascinated journalists that showcased just how cutting-edge Chicago’s next generation of media arts graduates will be.
Our delegation then headed over to 600 West Chicago Avenue. The former Montgomery Ward catalog warehouse is a perfect example of just how well public and private development can work when partnered up. Thanks in part to World Business Chicago’s efforts, it is now the epicenter of many successful tech ventures in Chicago. “600 West,” as it’s called by its tenants, houses some of Chicago’s most successful companies including Groupon, Lightbank, Infinium Capital Management and Big Ten Network among many others. The tour included a rare sit-down interview with Groupon co-founder (and WBC board member) Eric Lefkofsky.

The day concluded with what was arguably the most forward-looking part of the tour: an introduction to Excelerate Labs. This tech startup incubator/accelerator hosts 10 companies each summer in an intensive 13-week boot camp. In conjunction with established entrepreneurs and investors, these fledgling companies go through a crash course that prepares them for “demo day,” where they each get to pitch their business to a room full of venture capitalists. Already this summer, one Excelerate startup, BabbaCo, has raised $1.2 million in venture capital. The lightning fast introductions by each of the 10 participating startups gave everyone in the room a taste of Chicago’s future tech innovators.

The day ended with a Q & A session between the journalists and Chicago venture capitalist (and WBC board member) J.B. Pritzker who talked about the crucial role that civic engagement plays in moving Chicago forward despite the economic challenges of the past few years. The reporters were excited and engaged, if worn out by the end of the whirlwind tour, and seemed eager to tell positive stories based on what the creative and dedicated people they met gave them to work with.

For more on this story read this blog post by World Business Chicago Creative Director, Jake Trussell, who accompanied the delegation on their tour. 

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