Sunday, September 29, 2013

Tech 50 shows progress, but more work remains

Tech 50 shows progress, but more work remains

Crain's annual Tech 50 list is essentially a snapshot of Chicago's progress as a tech startup hub. And snapshots have a way of making you smile and grimace at the same time.

With the proliferation of incubators, accelerators, coding schools, networking groups and co-working spaces around town, there's justifiable excitement over the prospect of fostering high-growth, tech-oriented startups here. Think 1871, TechStars, Catapult Chicago, Technori, Starter League and Tribeca Flashpoint Academy, to name just a few. Last week's $800 million acquisition of Chicago-grown credit software startup Braintree Inc. by e-commerce giant eBay Inc. underscores the potential payoffs for Chicago techies and the investors who love them.

When Crain's began tallying Chicago's top tech talent in 2011, the list was 25 names long. It expanded to 50 the following year. This year's list, published Sept. 23, easily could have mushroomed to 100 while still excluding worthy people.

Women and minorities remain largely underrepresented in the tech sector both in Chicago and nationally.
As Chicago tech investor J.B. Pritzker notes in a video conversation with Crain's contributor Lisa Leiter, it would have been a tough task to compile a list of 50 such names until recently. “Five years ago, the serial entrepreneurs in Chicago had not come to the forefront,” Mr. Pritzker says. “That is the critical component for success in the tech community—successful entrepreneurs reinvesting in the community and starting up new companies.”

And with people like OKCupid founder Sam Yagan, Flashpoint Academy founder Howard Tullman, Built In Chicago creator Matt Moog and OpenTable innovator Chuck Templeton so active on the scene, Chicago has what it takes to build a startup hothouse with some staying power. No wonder investors from both coasts are starting to scope out Chicago startups.

Still, there's work to be done. Women and minorities remain largely underrepresented in the tech sector both in Chicago and nationally, and the Tech 50 list reflects that reality. And while Chicago is gaining as an entrepreneurial center, this week's State of Small Business (starting on Page 15) section highlights some of the challenges—including the fact that Illinois lags the national average when it comes to entrepreneurs per capita.

Here's hoping Chicago makes progress on these fronts in the year ahead. If so, those advances will be reflected in next year's Tech 50 honor roll.

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