Sector Growth

Encourage the vibrancy of Chicago’s Technology Sector by attracting and retaining STEM professionals and supporting the creation and expansion of technology companies

Expand Incubators and Co-working Spaces

(Initiative 21)

ChicagoNEXT, industry leaders, academics, and others will create a center for Chicago biotech and pharmaceutical start-ups. This incubation, networking, collaboration, and business-acceleration space will help increase the number and size of bioscience companies, improve research, and increase opportunities for commercializing research.


In February 2015, Chicago’s new entrepreneurship and innovation incubator for next-generation health IT, medical device, diagnostics and biopharma companies, MATTER, opened, bringing together healthcare entrepreneurs and industry leaders in a shared space dedicated to individually and collectively fueling the future of healthcare innovation. Led by a team of industry experts, MATTER creates an environment where industry, academia, and government can collaborate to solve complex healthcare challenges.

As a hub for healthcare entrepreneurs that will help jump-start and grow early-stage healthcare IT, medical device, medical diagnostics, and biopharma companies, MATTER enables entrepreneurs to work, collaborate, and engage with industry leaders, mentors, universities, doctors, investors, and other experts who can help them develop their new businesses.

The State of Illinois catalyzed the launch of MATTER by providing $4 million to secure and build out its home on the 12th floor of the Merchandise Mart. The first 10 companies, all from the Chicago area, include Alta Thera Pharmaceuticals, Caretree, CancerIQ, Coeus Health, ProVazo, Qualia Health, Regroup Therapies, Resonance Medical, Sparrow Pharmaceuticals, and TeleHealth Robotics.

Initiative 21 - Biosciences, Research, and Medical

Connect Entrepreneurs

(Initiative 22)

The City of Chicago and ChicagoNEXT will create a program to connect start-ups and the business community to develop partnerships that will provide guidance and funding and drive synergies and momentum in the technology community.

Initiative 16

CleanTech Innovation Bridge

In summer 2014, Mayor Emanuel announced the launch of a three-year project to help start-ups and entrepreneurs gain access to clean-technology testing and demonstration facilities. The CleanTech Innovation Bridge (Bridge) will match the needs of large, established firms with technologies being developed by start-up companies, as well as government-supported entities like labs and university research that focus on transportation, the grid, and the built environment.

The Bridge will host showcases and recruiting events where start-ups will present their products in a real-world environment. The program is expected to grow 125 new jobs in Chicago’s clean-tech sector over the next three years, 20 percent of which will be for women and minorities. Chicago researchers are also expected to file 10 to 20 patents over three years in conjunction with the program.

Funding of $2.2 million from the United States Department of Energy and private sources enables the Bridge to run programs around commercialization that include mentorship, business development, capital access, and testing and demonstration. The Bridge will also work with the national organization Clean Technology Accelerator Program (CleanTAP), to develop best practices for clean-energy incubators that can be replicated nationwide.


Diverse STEM workforce

(Initiative 23)

Mayor Emanuel and the city’s business community will continue to encourage STEM professionals to join Chicago’s talented technology workforce by actively recruiting on college campuses and through other activities.

Step IT Up Chicago

In summer 2014, Mayor Emanuel, UST Global, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, and Skills for Chicagoland’s Future launched Step IT Up Chicago, a new IT training program working to recruit minority women into the IT field. The program will train 100 women in various IT tracks over the next year and partner with local corporations to place program graduates into full-time employment.

Step IT Up Chicago is part of Step IT Up America, a national program sponsored by UST Global that serves associate’s degree and community college students and equips them with technological skills, mentorship programs, and the industry knowledge necessary to prepare them for a career in the IT sector. The program comes to Chicago after successful pilots in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Detroit. UST Global is working with Albright Stonebridge Group, chaired by Madeleine Albright and Carlos Gutierrez, and plans to expand the program to 10 cities nationwide, with the ultimate goal of providing training to more than 1,000 minority women during the next year.


BLUE1647 is an entrepreneurship and technology innovation center that fosters economic development in technology and 21st Century skills through people development (classes, workshops, and events around technology), workforce development (through youth and adult technology programs to prepare individuals for high-demand jobs) and Business Acceleration (through shared coworking-services). BLUE1647 has locations in Englewood, Lawndale, Austin, Pilsen, and Roseland, and hosts programming to encourage a more diverse STEM workforce in Chicago.

Initiative 23 - Women in IT

“Why Chicago”

(Initiatives 24 and 25)

The City of Chicago will partner with Chicago’s many technology stars and other business leaders in a variety of events to share the narrative of Chicago as a technology destination and encourage workers and businesses to locate here.

The City will encourage technology firms in Chicago to share their civic pride by demonstrating the vibrancy and many successes of Chicago’s technology sector.


ThinkChicago is an innovative program launched by Mayor Emanuel in 2011 that introduces the nation’s top technology and computer science students to the city’s fast-growing technology sector. Each year, participants from across the country gather in Chicago to meet with industry leaders, visit business headquarters, gain free VIP admission to Lollapalooza and Chicago Ideas Week, and participate in panels featuring Mayor Emanuel and Chicago-based technologists.

Past participants met with representatives from leading companies, including GrubHub, Belly, kCura, 37Signals, and Vibes, and heard talks by renowned speakers, including Eric Lunt (BrightTag CTO), Dag Kittlaus (creator of Siri), and Harper Reed (Obama for America 2012 CTO). Attendees have also visited the 1871 incubator space, met Mayor Emanuel, and toured Chicago landmarks and other attractions.

Initiative 24/25 - Demographics Infographic

Internet of Things World Forum

As the Internet becomes ubiquitous in our lives, the Internet of Things (IoT) is also more widespread—that is, there’s an increase in the number of everyday objects with network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data. This growing technology of networked objects and sensors can increase resident and visitor interaction with cities by providing real-time information about the environment.

In October 2014, as a growing hub for sensor technologies, Chicago hosted the second annual Internet of Things World Forum. Organized by Cisco Systems, the forum is a massive global event devoted to helping accelerate the market adoption of the Internet of Things and includes the world’s top innovators, practitioners, and thinkers in business, government, and academia. Walking tours, held during the Forum and organized by Cisco and the City, highlighted how the Internet of Things is reshaping Chicago, providing innovative solutions to real-world problems, including public safety, transportation, parking, energy efficiency, and waste management. The forum connects Chicago with the rest of the world on this important issue and through new opportunities helps fortify the City’s approach to technology and innovation.

In March 2015, the Illinois Technology Association (ITA) announced the formation of the ITA Internet of Things Council – a public/private partnership that brings together leaders from the tech space, academia, consumer world, and government to collaborate on IoT technology, policy, and industry topics. The Internet of Things Council will drive IoT innovation and adoption in Chicago and throughout the Midwest, establishing the city and the region as an epicenter for this new wave of technology.

Strengthen Research Connections

(Initiative 26)

The City of Chicago will join forces with the academic and business communities to establish UI LABS, enact research-friendly policies, and hold forums designed to feature Chicago as a major research center in order to draw the best and brightest to the city and increase commercialization opportunities.


UI LABS is a new, applied research and commercialization organization focused on creating partnerships between industry and universities to create new technologies and businesses. UI LABS works to meet the ever-evolving national and international needs for innovative products, systems, and services, and the development and manufacturing techniques that underlie these offerings.

UI LABS and partners are focused on bridging technology and manufacturing, and in spring 2014, received a $70 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to establish the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute as part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. The proposal involved top research universities, led by the University of Illinois and Northwestern University; large companies, including Boeing, Caterpillar, GE, Microsoft, Rolls-Royce, and hundreds of small- and mid-sized manufacturing and technology companies.

In March 2015, UI LABSannounced its second program, focusing on smart city technologies, which will develop and test urban infrastructure solutions in Chicago that will lead to transformative improvements that can be replicated in cities across the world. The UI LABS Cities Program will address challenges to the built environment and produce solutions that can be commercialized in four key areas: energy management; physical infrastructure; water and sanitation systems; and transportation and logistics systems.

Center for Smart Grid Applications, Research and Technology

In September 2014, Chicago’s Galvin Center for Electricity at Illinois Institute of Technology launched a new research facility, the Center for Smart Grid Applications, Research and Technology (CSMART), supported by partners including ComEd and Silver Spring Networks. Among its initiatives, CSMART will test smart streetlights, microgrids, and distributed solar technologies in Chicago to advance development in these key areas worldwide.

The Smart Street Lights pilot program will reduce the City’s operating, maintenance, and energy costs by up to 75 percent by using LED lights that are controlled by a smart grid network. The software will help staff work more efficiently by providing remote access, automatic outage detection, and the ability to schedule lighting.


As more government data becomes increasingly available online, and governments increasingly turn to advanced analytics to enhance operations, officials and researchers need more advanced applications to find data-driven solutions to the complex issues faced by municipalities.

This fall, the University of Chicago’s Urban Center for Computation and Data released Plenario, a new platform for accessing, combining, downloading, and visualizing data sets across different levels of government. Plenario brings together a universe of information from a variety of resources into one place and offers a user-friendly interface to cities, researchers, developers, and journalists to access data. By taking care of burdensome technical issues, the platform enables users to focus on developing solutions to problems instead of spending significant time and resources to identify, gather, and align data first.

Plenario provides an important step in enabling Chicago’s data ecosystem to create data-driven tools that help improve our city, and components of this system will be leveraged to build the City’s SmartData Predictive Analytics Platform.

Business-Friendly Environment

(Initiative 27)

The City of Chicago will review current business-related requirements and processes, updating them, where appropriate, in order to further foster an environment in which businesses can flourish and grow.

Small Business Center Website and Site Selector

In January 2014, the City launched two online tools to help small business owners access critical information and services. The revamped Small Business Center website is now available in English and Spanish and serves as a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs and business owners, offering user-friendly information, materials, and guidance for starting and growing a small business in Chicago. The second online tool, completed in conjunction with World Business Chicago, is a new and improved Site Selector to help small businesses search for commercial sites available for lease or sale. Both sites were developed in cooperation with Mayor Emanuel’s Innovation Delivery Team and following consultations with local small businesses and the City’s Small Business Advisory Council.

GET Connected IT Ambassadors

Funded through the City’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, Chatham Business Association’s new Get Connected IT Ambassadors program develops the computer-literacy skills of young adults and trains them to assist small businesses with technology needs.

The IT Ambassadors receive training in email marketing, social media marketing (including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), and website development. The Ambassadors spend four weeks directly assisting small business owners and receive financial stipends for their work. Upon completion of the Get Connected IT Ambassadors training program, Ambassadors receive a certificate validating their skill set.

In 2013, 24 students completed the IT Ambassadors training program. Ambassadors introduced new online tools to 75 businesses and worked one-on-one with 15 businesses. In 2014, CBA recruited four Chief IT Ambassadors to work with businesses and train youth Ambassadors. This past August, CBA presented certificates to 11 youth IT Ambassadors, who are currently working one-on-one with an additional 15 businesses.

Smart Grid Technology

Chicago residents are among the first electricity customers in Illinois to receive smart meters in homes and businesses as part of an accelerated rollout of Smart Grid technology. By 2018, ComEd will install more than 1.3 million smart meters to accelerate $170 million in customer savings. To date, nearly 300,000 smart meters have been installed, providing residents and businesses with real-time access to their electricity usage information so they can save money and resources by making better decisions about how and when to use electricity.

In 2014, the City received an Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation grant to educate residents on how to use the newly installed smart meters to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and businesses.

Solar Energy Technology

In conjunction with the Environmental Law and Policy Center and West Monroe Partners, the City launched the Chicago Solar Express in October 2013. The Chicago Solar Express reduces wait times for small solar installations from 30 days to one day, cuts application fees by 25 percent, and provides an online one-stop shop to guide applicants through the permitting process. Improvements in zoning policy and processes and the fee reductions have resulted in savings of $2,000 to $4,000 for small installation projects, with even higher savings for larger installations.

In 2014, the City launched a community-wide solar bulk-purchase program. Backed by a grant from the World Wildlife Fund, the program provided a 25 percent discount off the average market installation cost through the end of September 2014. The City exceeded its original registration goal of 750 participants, with a total of 2,131 sign-ups, and signed contracts to install nearly 500 kW of solar power.


Expand City Procurement Opportunities for Small-sized Companies

This summer, DoIT will release a Request for Qualifications for start-up and small-sized companies to join a new pool of pre-qualified vendors eligible for future City procurement opportunities. Companies who are deemed qualified will be placed into a pool and receive access to City contract opportunities in the areas of software application development and data analytics.

To further decrease the barriers facing smaller-sized companies in competing for City business, the City has modernized its insurance requirements to allow for pooled insurance plans. Start-ups that are members of an incubator, such as 1871, or smaller companies that come together for a group insurance plan, may now meet the City’s insurance requirements as a group. Insurance requirements were identified as a barrier to conducting business with the City in a series of listening sessions conducted over the past year with these companies.


Increase Venture Capital

(Initiative 28)

To help attract funding to Chicago-based start-ups, World Business Chicago and business leaders will work to attract more venture capital firms to Chicago and provide support to existing firms as they reach out to venture capital firms worldwide.

Chicago Venture Summit

On October 14 and 15, 2014, the Chicago Venture Summit hosted the most influential venture capitalists in the country to build relationships with the Midwest’s most promising technology companies. The featured companies were all IT-related and had secured a minimum of $1 million in venture capital prior to the conference. The Summit provided investors with substantial one-on-one access to high-potential Chicago start-ups, as well as exclusive access to Midwest-based LPs and members of Chicago’s Fortune 500 leadership. The Summit brought together over 400 attendees, with representation from 71 national venture capital firms and 61 Illinois-based venture capital firms. The summit will be permanent moving forward and the program expanded upon by providing businesses with increased access to venture capitalists through additional pitch days throughout the year where businesses can sell investors on their companies.

Initiative 28 - Revenue Infographic