• Explore Chicago's Innovation Ecosystem

    Each year Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with World Business Chicago and the University of Illinois, invite some of the brightest engineering, design, and entrepreneurial university students to ThinkChicago where they can explore the city’s vibrant innovation ecosystem.


    The program takes place during two of Chicago’s signature cultural events, Lollapalooza and Chicago Ideas Week, with the goal of retaining and attracting talent from throughout the country to increase job growth in Chicago’s technology industry.


  • ThinkChicago


    Here's a look at a past ThinkChicago event:

  • ThinkChicago: Lollapalooza

    Wednesday, August 2 – Friday, August 4, 2017


  • Global Entrepreneur In Residence Program

    Helping Immigrant Entrepreneurs Start Businesses in Chicago

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel and ThinkChicago are proud to assist in the launch of Global Entrepreneur-In-Residence (EIR) programs at five Chicago-area universities. The programs will provide opportunities for immigrant entrepreneurs to start or grow their companies in Chicago. Through partnerships with these university, entrepreneurs can more easily apply for a visa in order to grow their company. These new businesses will become an important part of Chicago’s start-up ecosystem, supporting the universities and the Chicago community with mentorship and job opportunities.

    Participating Institutions

    If you'd like to learn more please fill out the form below and we'll be in touch.

  • Roadshow 2017

    Connecting Top Talent with Innovative Business

    This year, ThinkChicago is also going on the road to connect with students where they’re at. The delegation will include business leadership alongside the Mayor and other civic leaders, telling Chicago’s story to top talent.

    January 30, 2017

    University of Illinois

    Urbana-Champaign, IL


    February 6, 2017

    Stanford University

    Stanford, CA

    April 13, 2017

    Harvard University

    Cambridge, MA

    April 14, 2017

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Cambridge, MA


    Carnegie Mellon University

    Pittsburgh, PA


    Purdue University

    West Lafayette, IN


    University of Michigan

    Ann Arbor, MI

  • Featuring

    Leadership Talks

    By Mayor Rahm Emanuel and some of Chicago’s top technology entrepreneurs

    Panel Discussions

    With Chicago leaders discussing the city's technology industry and business opportunities

    Interactive Sessions

    For students to meet with Chicago's leading business and civic leaders

    University Partnership Opportunities

    For members of the Chicago delegation to meet with university though-leaders

  • Example Agenda

    For ThinkChicago: Chicago Ideas Week 2016

    Thursday, October 20


    Registration and Breakfast at Jay Pritzker Pavillion



    Welcome Remarks and Keynote



    Company Tour Overview



    Civic Tech Panel



    Lunch and Civic Tech Challenge Kickoff



    Afternoon Keynote



    CIW Talk: Business In Motion: The Keys to Creating a Company That Thrives






    CIW Talk: How Today's Leaders Make Critical Choices


    Friday, October 21


    Breakfast at Motorola Mobility



    Welcome Remarks



    Guest Speaker



    Civic Tech Challenge Work Time



    Company Showcase & Lunch



    Company HQ Tours - Meet at Merchandise Mart by no later than 4:30pm



    Welcome Remarks - Center for the Lost Arts



    Fireside Chat



    Dinner and Game Night



    Bus Back to Merchandise Mart

    Saturday, October 22


    Breakfast at Harold Washington Library



    Welcome Remarks



    Civic Tech Challenge Pitch Practice Time



    Civic Tech Challenge Final Presentations






    Program Closing and Civic Tech Challenge Winners Announced

  • Past Speakers

    Look Who's Talking

    Alya Adamany Woods

    Director, ChicagoNEXT


    Alya Adamany Woods is the Director of ChicagoNEXT, World Business Chicago’s dedicated effort to drive growth and opportunity in science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. Woods is responsible for fostering economic development through initiatives that attract entrepreneurs and investment, and support infrastructure needed to grow technology companies within the cleantech, bioscience, web/mobile and fintech sectors.


    Prior to her role at World Business Chicago, Alya was the Managing Director for Innovation Initiatives at the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition (ISTC), a statewide advocacy group dedicated to cultivating technology-based economic development in Illinois. She co-founded and managed the ISTC’s award-winning Corporate-Startup Challenge, a program designed to create a bridge between major corporations and startup and emerging growth technology firms. She was also the co-creator of the Illinois Innovation Index, a monthly publication developed in conjunction with World Business Chicago to benchmark the city and state’s ability to attract capital, create and retain talent and business, and drive dynamic technologies.


    Prior to that, Woods worked for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, where she most recently served as the Assistant Director for studies, and prior to that as the Interim Director for the Global Midwest Initiative. There, she tackled global policy issues including energy, immigration, and agriculture.


    Alya received her bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale University and a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Chicago.

    Charles Adler

    Founder, Center for the Lost Arts and Founder, Kickstarter


    A Kickstarter co-founder, designer, and lifelong nomad. Born in the U.K., raised in the U.S., living life exploring the world. Previously founded the now defunct web-based arts magazine Subsystence as well as Source-ID, a multi-disciplinary design studio. Since 1994, much of his work has centered on supporting independent artists. Additionally, he is a passionate runner, cyclist and outdoorsman. Nature heals.

    Shradha Agarwal

    President & Co-Founder, ContextMedia


    Shradha Agarwal has a lifelong passion for building organizations to connect people and information, having started her first business at age nine. In 2006, Shradha co­founded ContextMedia, a healthcare media company that delivers lifestyle education to 20M patients each month. As President, Shradha is focused on product innovation, scaling operations and talent development.


    Shradha co­-founded JumpStart Ventures in 2011 to fund other passionate entrepreneurs who are executing ambitious solutions in healthcare, education and media communications, and has since backed more than 40 companies. She mentors entrepreneurs at Techstars, Impact Engine & Blueprint Health, but is equally invested in the venture philanthropy model for scaling nonprofit solutions through SVP Chicago and The Chicago Public Education Fund. She serves on the boards of OneGoal and Chicago Children's Choir and spiritedly supports youth education, women leadership, and civic engagement.


    The CEC recently honored the two ContextMedia co­founders with the "2015 Chicagoness Award" for their deep commitment to developing the city's ecosystem. Shradha was also recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House and awarded the Prominent Woman in Tech by ITA. She enjoys sharing stories, traveling internationally and exploring new cultures, food and music.

    Tom Alexander

    Chief Operating Officer, 1871


    Tom Alexander is chief operating officer for 1871, one of the largest technology incubators in the United States. His role includes operation of a facility that houses hundreds of startups, business development efforts focused on integrating 1871 into the Chicago technology economy, and external relations efforts with government and media partners.

    Previously, Tom served as deputy communications director for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In his role with the Mayor’s office he oversaw day-to-day communication strategy and long-term planning, including events, written press materials, and coordination among city agencies. He additionally played a leading role on the Mayor’s economic council, working to attract and retain companies and jobs to Chicago.

    Prior to his time in the Mayor’s office, Tom served as a senior communications director at the University of Chicago, a policy and communications projects director in the Office of the Governor of Illinois, and a senior disaster analyst for the U.S. Small Business Administration in Washington, DC. He has also worked as a newspaper reporter, editor of an online business publication, adjunct professor of journalism, and was founder of a small sports newspaper.

    Stella Ashaolu

    Founder, WeSolv


    Stella is the Founder and CEO of rising ed-tech venture, WeSolv, in addition to serving as a business development and strategy consultant to small and medium businesses.


    Stella maintains an unwavering focus on customer and user acquisition via value creation, a strategy she applies to WeSolv and client engagements. Stella has 8+ years of experience in business growth strategy, client development, and operations.


    Her industry/category specialties span the financial services, retail, education, and heavy manufacturing & utilities industries. Stella holds a BS in Political Science and emphasis in Accounting from the University of California, Los Angeles and graduated among the top of her class from the Full Time MBA Program at the University of Southern California.

    Mark E. Andersen

    Director of Learning & Economic Advancement, Chicago Public Library


    Mark E. Andersen is the Director of Learning and Economic Advancement at the Chicago Public Library (CPL). He has been in this position since 2014 is responsible for developing system-wide programs for workforce development, small business, literacy, adult learning and the CPL Maker Lab. He has been at CPL since 1993 and has worked in libraries since the age of 16--Skokie Public Library, Northwestern University Library, University of Illinois at Chicago Library, the Commerce Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and the Design Library at the Harrington Institute of Interior Design.


    He is an active member of ALA, chairing a number of committees, including the Business Reference in Public Libraries, Dun & Bradstreet Public Librarian Support Award and the Thomson Gale Award for Business Excellence. He was elected Chair of BRASS (2010-2011) and had been previously elected Member-At-Large, 2003 – 2005. He has been a member of the Library Administrator’s Council of Northern Illinois—Reference and Adult Services Section (LACONI-RASS) and served as president from 1998 – 2002.


    Mark has B.S. in Commerce, with a major in marketing from DePaul University and an M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

    Kateland Beals

    Program Manager, Education IBM


    Kateland Beals is the Education Program Manager at IBM. She works to prepare students for the workplace by engaging IBM employee mentors, securing internship placements, and collaborating with administration and teaching staff to address the most pressing industry needs.

    Prior to her role at IBM Kateland was the Instruction and Curriculum Coach at Sarah E Goode STEM Academy where she supported a group of 20 teachers in the development, implementation, and execution of high-quality, project-based curricula as measured by Illinois REACH standards. She has held previous roles at OneGoal and Teach for America. She received her Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

    Wolfgang Connell

    Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation


    Wolfgang Connell works on programmatic partnership opportunities both within and outside the University of Chicago community. This includes the University's partnership with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Laboratory Corps Program in partnership with Argonne and Fermilab and other programs created to benefit entrepreneurs at the Polsky Center.

    Danielle DuMerer

    Chief Technology Officer and First Deputy Commissioner, City of Chicago


    Danielle DuMerer is Chief Technology Officer and First Deputy Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation & Technology (DoIT). She is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the City’s central IT department and oversees its key technology initiatives. Since joining the City, Danielle has directed the development of WindyGrid (the City’s award-winning situational awareness and incident response system), its Office 365 migration, data center relocations, digital inclusion programming, and Data Portal. Danielle also serves on the Smart Chicago Collaborative's Operations Committee, an organization founded in part by the City and focused on improving lives through technology. Before joining the City of Chicago, Danielle developed K-12 educational technology products at the McGraw-Hill Companies, and worked in the Library and Archives field, serving a variety of educational and non-profit organizations. Danielle holds a Master of Library Science from the University of Maryland, College Park and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

    Derek Eder

    Lead Organizer, Chi Hack Night


    Derek is an entrepreneur, developer and one of the leaders of the civic technology community in Chicago. He is founder and partner at DataMade, a company that tells stories and builds tools with data, co-founder of Open City, a collective that makes civic apps to to improve transparency and understanding of our government, and organizer for the Chi Hack Night, America's premier weekly event for building civic technology with open data.

    He has built and collaborated on dozens of civic and data applications including 2nd City Zoning, Chicago Lobbyists, Look at Cook, Chicago Councilmatic and Dedupe.

    Rahm Emanuel

    Mayor​, City of Chicago​


    Rahm Emanuel has served as the 55th mayor of the city of Chicago since 2011. During that time he has made the tough choices necessary to secure Chicago’s future as a global capital. The Mayor added more than 200 hours to the school day and year, taking Chicago from having the least educational time of any large school district in the country to being on par with its peers. He implemented full-day kindergarten for every Chicago child, and fought for and won new accountability measures to ensure every teacher and principal had the necessary resources to succeed. The Mayor’s comprehensive public safety strategy is focused on expanded prevention programs for at-risk youth, smarter policing strategies, and empowering parents and communities to reduce violence in their neighborhoods. He attracted numerous companies to Chicago and helped to build the next generation of start-ups, while investing in the infrastructure, public transportation, open space and cultural attractions that make Chicago a great place to live, work, and play. And he has worked to make our government more effective, to deliver better services at a more competitive price, and to open government to the public.


    Prior to becoming Mayor, Emanuel served as the White House Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama and served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives representing Chicago’s 5th District. He previously served as a key member of the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1998, rising to serve as Senior Advisor to the President for Policy and Strategy.


    Mayor Emanuel graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1981 and received a Master's Degree in Speech and Communication from Northwestern University in 1985. He is married to Amy Rule, and they have three children.

    Peter Fiflis

    Tovala, ThinkChicago Alum


    Peter a ThinkChicago Alum is the lead engineer of Tovala. He just wrapped up his PhD in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Illinois. Before joining the Tovala team, he started BreakfastBox, an automated breakfast appliance.

    Horace Flournoy

    Associate Director, Personalization, Rise Interactive


    Entrepreneurship is Horace Flournoy’s true passion. He has spent the last 3 years managing teams, envisioning and managing mobile and web application development projects and advising other entrepreneurs and startups. He has successfully raised seed round financing for 3 different startups, including Coder[EXP], Cloud Monet, and Hip Hop Emoji.


    Horace holds a B.S in Computer Science from Illinois Wesleyan University and a B.S. in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He obtained an M.B.A. from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in May 2012, where he double majored in Finance and Entrepreneurial Management. He is a registered Patent Agent before the United States Patent and Trademark Office.


    He embraces creativity, competition and a continuous discovery of unique business models. He enjoys playing basketball, boxing, occasionally some golf, outdoor activities, and traveling. He is also an active mentor through the 100 Black Men of Chicago and Year Up Chicago organizations. Horace obtained his EAGLE SCOUT rank through the Boy Scouts of America in 1999.

    Rajesh Karmani

    CEO, ZeroPercent


    Raj Karmani is the CEO of Zero Percent, a technology platform that connects food retailers with food charities to donate and pick-up food surplus. Raj came to the United States from Pakistan to study Computer Science. He intended to, “get an advanced degree in Computer Science, come to the United States and work for the best technology companies out there.” While finishing his PhD, he realized that he could instead use his expertise to make a serious social impact – reduce food waste with the help of technology and modern logistics.

    Brad Keywell

    Founder and Co-Chairman, Chicago Ideas Week and Co-Founder and CEO of Uptake


    Brad is the Founder and Chairman of Chicago Ideas Week. one of the major ideas and innovation platforms in the world He is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where he teaches a course on entrepreneurship and disruptive technology. He is the Immediate Past Chairman of the Illinois Innovation Council, appointed by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. He has served on the Mayor’s Committee on Technology. Brad Keywell, is the Co-Founder and CEO of Uptake Technologies. He is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Lightbank. He is a Co-Founder and Director of Groupon. Brad is the Chairman of the Future Founders Foundation, which runs programs designed to help teach and inspire high school students in entrepreneurship, and connect them with mentors and role models for guidance and inspiration. He received his J.D. cum laude from the University of Michigan School of Law (1993) and his Bachelor of Business Administration with honors from the University of Michigan (1991). He also studied in 1990 at the London School of Economics. He is a member of the State Bar of Illinois and the

    Michigan Bar Association.

    Doug Lautner

    Sr. Director of Software Research at Lenovo


    Doug is the Sr. Director of Software at Lenovo where he manages the Chicago based Research and Technology Lab. He is a Ph.D candidate in the Computer Science Department at Illinois Institute of Technology. He earned his MSCS and MSEE from the Illinois Institute of Technology and holds an MBA from Tulane University. Doug currently has 17 patent pursues.

    Eric Mills

    Software Engineer, Rithmio


    As a student at the University of Illinois in 2013, Eric attended ThinkChicago and landed his first job at Civis Analytics from the ThinkChicago program. At Civis Analytics he helped develop front- and back-end systems for the company’s data science platform and media optimizer. But he’s quick to point out that it’s not just the engineering side of development that interests him.

    Eric is currently a Software Engineer at Rithmio and was drawn to Rithmio’s “kick-ass technology” in gesture recognition. Eric is excited to be working with a smart group of people at the intersection of hardware and software.

    Jimmy Odom

    Senior Policy Advisor, Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity​


    Jimmy Odom was named Senior Advisor of Minority Business Development for the Illinois Department of Commerce in September 2015. In his role, Jimmy works with minority communities throughout the state to help create, develop, and grow entrepreneurs.


    Before joining the Department of Commerce, Jimmy founded WeDeliver Inc., the largest hyper-local logistics service in Chicago. As CEO, Jimmy created, communicated, and implemented the vision, mission, and corporate direction of the company. By engaging the Board of Directors and advisors, Jimmy formulated and executed the organization’s strategic plan, and he regularly examined the competitive landscape for growth opportunities.


    Prior to launching WeDeliver, Jimmy worked at Apple Inc. as the Head of Customer Experience for the Midwest Region. At Apple, Jimmy developed, coached, and mentored over 450 Apple Brand Specialists, who contributed over $100 Million in sales and maintained top revenue and sales performances across Apple retail worldwide for three consecutive quarters.


    Jimmy is a celebrated leader in the state’s entrepreneurial community, and his recognitions include the IBM North America’s Most Innovative Company Award, the Chicago Urban League Innovator Award, Crain’s Business Chicago’s 50 Most Influential People list, and the Moxie Award for Best Founder in Chicago.

    Katie Olson

    Associate Director of Operations, City Digital


    In her role as Associate Director of Operations, Katie oversees all lab operations at City Digital. Katie also leads partner communications and outreach to industry, university, government, and startups to facilitate the formation of the consortium.

    Katie joined UI LABS in February 2014 as a Program Manager. Prior to UI LABS, she supported implementation of the Plan for Economic Growth & Jobs, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s coordinated effort to assess and expand Chicago’s economy, at World Business Chicago. As the Plan’s “Neighborhood and Place-Based Assets” Strategy Manager, Katie developed initiatives to accelerate small business growth, increase broadband access and adoption, leverage the CTA’s recent transit investments, and build the capacity of anchor institutions’ supply chains. Katie previously worked for The Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia-based community development financial institution, and served as a Mayoral Fellow for the City of Chicago in 2011. From 2008-2010, she served as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi.

    Tom Schenk

    Chief Data Officer, City of Chicago


    Tom Schenk is a researcher, author, and an expert in a number of fields, including open government, data visualization, business and research and policy in education. He is currently the Chief Data Officer at the City of Chicago, which includes overseeing Chicago’s open data portal, advanced analytics team, and the City’s data and business intelligence team. He leads the strategic use of data to improve the efficiency of city operations and improve the quality of life for residents.


    Tom has lead the expansion of Chicago’s leading open data portal, deployed predictive analytics in the City to improve data services, and has streamlined the City’s data operations. Tom wrote Circos Data Visualization How-To, an introductory book on using the biology data visualization libraries for use in the social sciences. He has previously served as a consultant for Institutional Effectiveness and Accountability at the Iowa Departments of Education, where he led efforts to use student-level longitudinal data to evaluation education programs, including an evaluation of Project Lead The Way and calculating rates of return for community college graduates. He also led science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) policy in Iowa and a coauthor of Iowa’s STEM roadmap.


    Tom was a visiting scholar with Iowa State University’s Office of Community College Research and Policy where he studied graduate-student unionization. He was also a lecturer at Grand View University where he taught statistics and economics. He earned a Master’s degree in economics from Iowa State University and a Bachelor’s from Drake University.

    Paul Seidler

    Director of Venture Development, Clean Energy Trust


    As the Director of Venture Development at Clean Energy Trust (CET), Paul Seidler works directly with startups, large corporations, investors, and other industry stakeholders to support the development and deployment of innovative clean energy technologies and business models. Paul’s primary responsibilities at CET include managing venture development services for startups, overseeing the organization’s investment portfolio, evaluating and diligencing deal flow in partnership with CET’s Investment Committee, and sourcing innovation for CET’s corporate clients via the Cleantech Innovation Bridge.


    In managing CET’s portfolio, Paul primarily focuses on startups in the solar, energy storage, and efficiency sectors, serving as a board director for GreenLancer and a board observer for All Cell Technologies, NETenergy, Sun Number, Design Flux Technologies, Igor, and Nexmatix. Since 2014, Paul has served as a mentor at the Summer Institute on Sustainability and Energy (SISE) at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


    Prior to joining CET, Paul oversaw business development for Applied Thin Films, Inc., an advanced materials company developing ceramic coatings and composites for the energy, aerospace, and defense industries. Paul completed his undergraduate studies in economics at the University of Michigan and earned an MBA with honors from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

    Shelley Stern Grach

    Director & Community Advocate, Microsoft Chicago


    They say that great work stems from a combination of passion and commitment, something that Shelley certainly possesses when it comes to her life and career. She currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive Chicago, Year Up and LISC Chicago. At Microsoft Chicago, she’s the Director of Civic Engagement, working at the intersection of computing and community, promoting STEM programs and using Microsoft technology to spur growth in the community. So no matter if it's work, play, or giving back, Shelley always makes sure her drive and professionalism help her complete her life's goals.

    Max Temkin

    Cards Against Humanity/Secret Hitler


    Max make the games Humans vs. Zombies, Cards Against Humanity, and Werewolf. I published Samurai Gunn. He is a designer from Chicago, Il, who works for clients like Barack Obama and the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation. He is on DonorsChoose.org’s National Advisory Council. He has a degree in philosophy from Goucher College.

    Jessica Tenuta

    Co-Founder and Head of Design, Packback


    Jessica Tenuta is the co-founder and Head of Design for Packback, a student-founded education technology start-up. Payback believes that all students have the potential to change the world, but first they have to learn how to question it. Packback exists to awaken fearless, relentless curiosity in every student.


    Prior to Packback, Jessica worked as a brand designer in venture capital at Lightbank and Listen Ventures, where she provided brand, user experience and design consultation to their portfolio companies.


    She was recently was named by Chicago Inno as a 2015 "50 on Fire" winner and one of Chicago's "25 Startup Founders under 25", and was a speaker at the 2015 TedxNormal conference.

    Howard Tullman

    CEO of 1871


    Mr. Tullman has over 45 years of start-up, management, IPO and turn-around experience and an extensive operations background in web development, online services, large-scale information assembly and delivery systems, database design and implementation and the development, creation and production of all types and formats of multimedia, computer games and audio/video digital content. He has designed and developed GUI and natural user interfaces, interactive and immersive games and instruction systems and other electronic entertainments, training products and services, as well as other information-based products and services in a variety of fields including automotive, insurance, CRM, employment, real estate, consumer goods and social media.

    Kenneth Watkins

    Chief Security Officer, Blue 1647


    Kenneth Watkins is a Mobile and Web developer, speaker and instructor from Chicago. Kenneth also designed, and created applications (mobile and web) for organizations and Hackathons. Kenneth has worked with various sized organizations’ from startups to corporations. Additionally, Kenneth teaches and mentors high school and university students who are building applications and developing hardware products. He has keen awareness of multiple organizational perspectives, and has the skills to coordinate these functional views to achieve business goals.

    Nicole Yeary

    Founder & CEO Ms.Tech & 1871's WiSTEM CoFacilitator


    Nicole has led Ms.Tech, a Chicago-based company focused on seeing more women start and scale companies, as the founding President since 2014. She has spent over fifteen years in leadership positions with Fortune 500 companies in various capacities such as Direct Sales, Marketing Services, and Learning Development. She spent several years helping build a startup within a corporation that collectively became the most profitable unit. Nicole now invests her time advising and guiding the next generation of startup companies through a strong partnership between Ms.Tech and 1871 as the co-facilitator WiSTEM, a 16-week curriculum-based program that connects women to capital, community, and technology resources.

  • Patrick Dentler

    Marketing Director, C3 Presents


    A proud graduate of Austin High School and The University of Texas, Patrick started work at Austin’s local NPR affiliate, KUT 90.5 and is now Marketing Director at C3 Presents, overseeing all digital marketing and traditional media for the company's music and food & wine festivals, including Lollapalooza, ACL Festival, Voodoo Music Festival and Austin Food + Wine Festival.



    Kate Drane

    Senior Director of Tech Outreach, Indiegogo


    Kate Drane is Indiegogo’s Senior Director of Chicago Outreach. She has led hundreds of companies, including Misfit Wearables, Jolla and Canonical, to secure funding on Indiegogo. In addition to working at Indiegogo, Kate is the co-founder and CMO of The Can Van, the world’s first mobile beer canning service made to bring reasonably priced and environmentally friendly packaging options to California breweries, which launched on Indiegogo. She met her co-founders while attending Presidio Graduate School, where she received her MBA in Sustainable Management. You can usually find her watching the Butler Bulldogs at Brownstone or roaming the halls of 1871.




    Kristi Dula

    Network Relationship Manager, Pritzker Group


    Kristi joined Pritzker Group in 2016. She is responsible for facilitating relationships for Pritzker Group’s family of companies and connecting them with the firm’s wide network of experts, strategic partners and potential customers.

    Dula is an accomplished sales and operations professional with extensive experience developing corporate partnerships and building community relationships. Most recently, Dula served as a strategic account manager for Kapow, an online marketplace and corporate event provider, where she developed sales and solution processes to manage ten of the company’s top tech accounts, including Adobe, Apple and Google. Prior to Kapow, Dula was vice president of events and content creation for 1871, the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center’s flagship technology incubator. Dula operationalized 1871’s focus on connecting businesses, organizers and entrepreneurs during its early stages and oversaw all marketing, communications and logistics efforts for more than 1,500 events.




    Julie Hinman

    Senior Data Analyst, C3 Presents


    Julie Hinman is the Senior Data Analyst on the Marketing Analytics & Technology team at C3 Presents. Her work guides music festival strategy with insights from ticket, survey, website and other data. She holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Rice University and a M.S. in Music Technology from New York University.

    Charlotte Johnson

    Manager of Corporate Citizenship, IBM


    Charlotte Johnson is IBM’s Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs Manager for Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. In this role, Charlotte works with organizations and agencies in the region to identify areas for impact and collaboration by leveraging IBM’s expansive citizenship programs and grants. While at IBM, Charlotte has worked specifically on IBM’s citizenship initiatives in education where she led the expansion of the P-TECH 9-14 model from New York to Chicago. The innovative P-TECH model leverages public-private partnerships to enable students to earn their high school diploma, associate’s degree, and valuable workplace experience within six years.

    Charlotte earned her B.A. in Spanish from Skidmore College and holds an M.S. in Childhood Education from Pace University. She was a 2007 Teach For America Corps Member in New York City and a 2011-2012 Coro Fellow in Public Affairs.




    Zack Johnson

    Chief Excecutive Officer, Syndio


    As CEO, Zack has bootstrapped the growth of Syndio from a one-man shop to a 14-person team, with greater than 100 percent year-over-year revenue growth for the past three years. Syndio customers include world-class organizations like Procter & Gamble, Mars, and Exelon.


    In addition to working with for-profit clients, Syndio has focused extensively on applying its unique solution to the challenges of some of the world’s largest non-profits and NGOs. In collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Zack led work centered on secondary education and post-secondary education in the United States and on family health (Family Health Initiatives) in India. Through this work, Zack helped the foundation use networks to determine the best rollout strategy for family health innovation across rural Bihar.


    Prior to Syndio, Zack applied network science to help pop and hip-hop artists rapidly grow entrenched fan bases. He used the same technology that was later applied to the enterprise to helping rising artists identify influencers who could propel artists to stardom. Several of these campaigns were successful, with two of the most prominent artists being Mike Posner (Island Records) and Big Sean (Roc Nation).


    Zack’s interest in the field of networks began while studying communications at Northwestern University. There, he held a research position at the Science of Networks in Communities (SONIC) research group and studied networks for grants funded by NASA, the U.S. Army, and the MacArthur Foundation.




    Eric Klein

    Director of Marketing Analytics and Technology, C3 Presents


    Eric Klein is a visual and analytical thinker who loves people, data, technology, and strategy - and mixes them together to make money. Following a B.S. in Computer Science at TCU, Eric's career has been three distinct phases - 13 years of corporate technology, 12 years of consulting and data management leadership within marketing for Fortune 100 companies, and the last 8+ years applying technology, marketing, and analytics within the live music industry segment - connecting music fans to their favorite musicians.




    Steven Koch

    Deputy Mayor, City of Chicago


    Steven Koch is the deputy mayor of Chicago. His responsibilities include oversight of the Mayor’s Economic Council, as well as focuses on job creation and retention, budget issues, municipal finance and revenue, and economic development throughout Chicago.
    Prior, Koch spent 27 years at Credit Suisse. During his tenure at CS, he both ran and was the Chairman of the global Mergers and Acquisitions business. In his career, Steve has advised on landmark transactions across a broad range of industries that together comprise more than $1 trillion worth of transactions.

    Koch also has a deep interest in service to the community. He served as Chairman of the Board of both the Sinai Health System of Chicago and the Greater Chicago Food Depository; Co-Chairman of the Green Ribbon Committee on Sustainability and Climate Change of Chicago; and as a life trustee of the Francis Parker School. He helped develop and taught in the Director's Consortium, a seminar sponsored by Dartmouth, the University of Chicago and Stanford Business Schools that trains corporate directors and served as a Presidential appointee to the Independent Advisory Panel of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.



    Justin Massa

    Director of Business Strategy​, IDEO​


    Justin Massa is an innovator and entrepreneur with expertise in food, big data, housing, open gov data, and civil rights. His work centers on connecting industries, companies, and governments which have historically lagged behind with the technologies and data they need to leap ahead. He is currently Director of Business Strategy at IDEO’s Chicago studio.

    Justin was previously the founder and President of Food Genius, a venture-backed big data and analytics company in the food industry whose customers include US Foods, McDonald’s, Safeway, Coca-Cola, and Kraft. Food Genius was named to Entrepreneur Magazine’s “100 Brilliant Companies” list, and was the recipient of a Chicago Innovation “Up and Comer” Award and a Core77 Design Award. Food Genius was acquired by US Foods in April 2016.

    Mike McGee

    Co-Founder, The Starter League


    Mike McGee is the co-founder of The Starter League (acquired by Fullstack Academy in 2016), an in-person school in Chicago teaching beginners how to build web applications. Before The Starter League, Mike's greatest claim to fame was that his High School mascot was a pretzel. He went to Northwestern for four years where he spent two years being a student and two years in student government - miraculously becoming Student Body President his senior year. In Spring 2011, Mike decided to turn down Obama for America (his first real job offer) to co-found The Starter League. Mike was named to Crain's 40 Under 40 for 2013 (along with his co-founder, Neal Sales-Griffin).




    Harper Reed

    Sr Director, Software Development, PayPal​

    Harper Reed is an hacker/engineer who builds paradigm-shifting tech and leads others to do the same. He loves using the vastness of the Internet to bring people together, whether as CTO of Obama for America, CTO at Threadless.com, or on his own projects. Through the acquisition of his company, Modest, inc, Harper is helping to define the future of commerce at PayPal. You can often find Harper playing with new technologies, looking for something to hack, or enjoying life in Chicago with his amazing partner, Hiromi and their bizarre poodle, Lulu.




    Maryam Saleh, PhD

    Vice President, Programs​, MATTER


    Maryam is passionate about moving research into the market, where it can have impact and improve lives. Her path started off at Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems, Inc. where she teamed up with neuroscientists at Brown University to spin out a brain implant designed to help restore movement in paralyzed individuals. She’s also performed research herself, while pursuing her PhD in computational neuroscience at the University of Chicago. Most recently, she founded the Center for Device Development at Northwestern University, a fellowship program in medical device innovation, where doctors and engineers test drive their own medical device business ideas. Through her work, she’s come to realize the importance of building bridges between stakeholders in order to move opportunities forward.


    Her goal as MATTER’s vice president of programs is to actively engage with MATTER’s members to build an experience that is customized to address their individual needs.



    Mark Tebbe

    Chairman, ChicagoNEXT, World Business Chicago


    Mark Tebbe brings more than 25 years of successful entrepreneurial and start-up experience that has included the founding of two NASDAQ-listed publicly-traded corporations as well as direct involvement in numerous start-up and high-growth companies. In his capacity at Lake Capital, Mark is involved in guiding and aiding numerous portfolio companies with strategy development, operational refinement, execution monitoring, as well as investment evaluation, structuring and negotiation.

    Over the years, Mark has been a published industry expert and is also a recognized authority on emerging technologies and his insights have appeared in leading national publications like BusinessWeek, Fortune, and The Wall Street Journal. He was named to Crain’s Chicago Business’s prestigious “40 under 40” list as well as inducted into Chicago’s Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame. In light to his service the University of Illinois, the alma mater of his B.S. in Computer Science / Engineering degree, Mark was honored with the Chicago Illini of the Year Award as well as the national Alumni Honor Award for Distinguished Service.

    Mark is active in many civic and professional organizations as well as actively serves on several charity and non-profit organization boards. He also supports numerous children-oriented, educational, and environmental causes.



    Matt Unger

    Founder & President, Roompact


    Matt does whatever he can to help at Roompact. After a decade of developing software for startups and billion dollar companies he found a passion for Higher Education and Residence Life that he'll never shake. Now he works with his Roompact teammates to bring simple, beautiful technology to the world of HigherEd. Among many other things, providing a great user experience and great customer support are extremely important to Matt. In the few hours per week that Matt is not working on Roompact he enjoys exploring Chicago and trying new food.




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  • Alumni Stories

    Learn about past participants in the ThinkChicago program

    Allison Bedell

    Northwestern University


    “I design and engineer medical devices. I listen to the patient and the doctor. I deliver solutions that are feasible, desirable, and viable.”


    Allison is an engineer and human-centered designer with a focus in the medical device industry. As an academic, Allison received a BS in Biomedical Engineering and, followed it up with an MS in Engineering Design and Innovation both from Northwestern. There she learned how innovation is cultivated, and designed user-centered medical and consumer solutions for companies like Procter & Gamble, Samsung, and her own medical device startup. She was individually recognized by the James Dyson Foundation for innovative for work on this device. She attributes these accomplishments to thoughtful synthesis, enthusiastic brainstorming and effective collaboration. Through life she aims to promote and create innovation in medicine, making a significant difference in the lives of patients, whether by improving medicine itself or by improving the patient’s experience with it.


    Current Position: Senior R&D Engineer at Fenwal, a Fresenius-Kabi company. Fenwal develops technologies and products for blood separation, collection, and transfusion.


    On ThinkChicago: “ThinkChicago brings together a group of very like-minded students who might otherwise never cross paths, but should! You will meet wonderfully interesting speakers and students, and be inspired by many of the city’s success stories.”




    Natalie Fratto

    Illinois Institute of Technology

    “Aspiring full-time food critic and yelp reviewer, paying the bills as a strategy consultant.”


    Natalie is an avid University of Michigan alum & fan, a lover of all things tech and a happy River North resident. She studied political science, so in addition to TechCrunch and Mashable, she always has a browser tab open to a political blog. “DC is juicier than the Real Housewives!” When asked about her favorite thing about Chicago, she revealed her inner foodie, “Girl and the Goat [is the best thing about Chicago]…no, seriously. The food in Chicago is amazing. I could live here for 100 years and still not make it through the massive list of restaurants I want to try.”


    Natalie was on the founding team of Will Work For Food that launched over 40 campus clubs, recruited 1,000+ new volunteers, and sponsored countless local volunteer efforts in support of our goal to end malnutrition globally. The organization is entirely run by college students, and while that presents many challenges, she attributes its success to this \"student-social entrepreneur\" model.


    Current Position: IBM rotational strategy consulting program - she has worked across multiple industries and companies. Projects have been centered on mergers & acquisitions strategy as well as digital customer experience strategy.


    On ThinkChicago: “ThinkChicago exposed me to a variety of companies that I hadn't previously considered, and more than anything, highlighted the diversity of opportunity available in Chicago. There is literally every type of company you could imagine, and the community of people working here is strong enough to rival Silicon Valley.“

    Ted Gonder

    Illinois Institute of Technology


    “Evening the odds for future generations through financial education.”


    Ted grew up in Los Angeles but moved to Chicago for college. In college, he and his friends - economics students at the University of Chicago--were struck by the resource disparity between their ivy-decked campus and some of the local communities on the south side. So, they put their heads together to find a way to even the odds for local youth. They came up with a simple solution: to create a tutoring program that focused on money instead of academics. Since starting in 2009, the organization--called Moneythink--has trained 1000 college volunteers to provide financial mentoring for 7500 inner-city teens in 30 communities across 10 states. Ted was recently appointed by President Obama to serve on the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans. In Ted's free time he enjoys practicing the martial art of aikido, watching videos of puppies and wild animals, and writing on his blog.


    Current Position: CEO of Moneythink, young people restoring the economic health of the US through financial education; member, U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans.


    On ThinkChicago: “Nobody succeeds alone - ThinkChicago provides the exposure, perspective, and community to elevate Chicago, one relationship at a time.”

    Neil Gupta

    Illinois Institute of Technology


    “I am a Chicago-based software developer, UX designer, entrepreneur, and board game enthusiast. I like beautiful code and awesome startups.”


    Neil has a strong background in software development, UX design, and business. Growing up in California, he was surrounded by inspiring tech companies and engineers. He started programming in middle school, where he wrote calculator games in TI-Basic, and quickly moved on to writing increasingly complex web applications. After studying Computer Science, Psychology, and Entrepreneurship at Illinois Institute of Technology, he founded an angel-funded ed-tech startup.


    In high school Neil started a profitable web design business, leveraging the experience he gained from having entrepreneur parents. He credits this early experience as instilling a “business side” passion that eventually lead to him founding Tabule ( a startup focused on creating a better student planner) here in Chicago. “Even though I grew up in the Silicon Valley, I chose to keep my startup in Chicago thanks to the support of ThinkChicago and my Chicago-based investors, who worked to provide me with the resources, network, and exposure I needed to grow.”


    Current Position: working at a Chicago-based energy supply startup, developing software, while he also continues to push Tabule


    On ThinkChicago: “ThinkChicago has helped expand my network and gotten me significant media coverage, both of which have had positive outcomes on my career. It also helped me cross off several items from my bucket list, such as attending Lollapalooza or a large TEDx conference”


    “If you already live in Chicago or are planning to move here, it's an excellent opportunity to be exposed to all the resources available in the city. Even if you have no desire to live in Chicago, you get to have a fun week in Chicago, and you may be surprised by how you feel after the event. Chicago is a large city, but feels like a small community. Chicagoans are approachable and always eager to help, which is great for creating new opportunities.”




    Shauna Martin

    Illinois Institute of Technology


    “On a never ending journey to an unknown destination, just enjoying the ride.”


    Shauna graduated from a CPS high school on the south side of Chicago, attended Illinois Institute of Technology and graduated with a bachelors in information technology and management. Quickly after graduating, she began work as a software engineer at Officemax. She worked there for 2 years before transitioning to work at eClinicalWorks as a software training specialist, where she is dedicated to becoming a product manager. However, it is all not all work for Shauna, she also started a non-profit organization(501c3 pending) and successfully runs a summer robotics program for 8th graders.


    Current Position: software training specialist at eClinicalWorks, a leading provider of ambulatory clinical information systems, including electronic health records (EHR)


    On ThinkChicago: “Do it! Do it! Do it! Go for the chance to experience Chicago like never before. It's a chance to get an inside look at the entrepreneurial environment of this city and you never know who you might meet or where it might take you.”


    “Chicago is GREAT...The culture. Businesses, people, diversity, architecture and so much more. Just everything mixed together is great. The culture of Chicago is unlike any other, and that culture fosters innovation.”

    Matt Unger

    Marquette University


    “Building great products that make life better for people. Building great teams behind those products”

    Matt grew up programming, when he was 12 his father bought him a domain for his birthday and he has been hooked ever since. “The internet gives anyone the ability to affect a large group of people.”


    He founded Roompact, where he is excited about building a team of passionate and hardworking people. It takes him being “tenacious and vision-driven” to inspire others to believe in the mission.


    He attributes ThinkChicago for kickstarting his career in Chicago's technology arena by providing connections that would have otherwise been difficult to get.


    Current Position: founder & ceo of Roompact, a software service that enables University administrators to predict, prevent, and reduce roommate conflict.


    On ThinkChicago: “You get to meet interesting people, tour innovative companies, and eat free food. At the very least, you get to take a free vacation with permission from the Mayor of Chicago. ThinkChicago was one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences of my college career. And if you're looking for a job -- ThinkChicago gave me an inside track to several recruiters at the companies we visited. It definitely gives participants a leg up in the job search”


    “They, along with many other people in the community, are really building up something great here. It was also exciting to get a peek inside a handful of industry-leading companies.”


    “As a developer, the lure of California was very enticing, but ThinkChicago steered me back home, and I've been able to poach a couple of other folks from the Bay Area as well.”




    Brittany Vacchiano

    Purdue University


    “I am determined, and I am not scared.”


    Brittany grew up on the southwest side of Chicago and attended an all-girls liberal arts high school called Mother McAuley. She spent her free time learning about computers, web development, and programming instead of focusing on other frivolous endeavours. “Computers just clicked for me.” This passion led her to Purdue’s Computer Science program. At Purdue, Brittany has interned at companies like Google, Qualcomm, JPMorgan, and Clarity Partners, LLC, and learned numerous programing languages including Java, C, C++, Ruby, Python, and .NET. In her free time she enjoys marathon training, cooking, and mentoring a Girl Scouts First Lego League Robotics team.


    Brittany started Purdue's largest student-run hackathon called BoilerMake. BoilerMake is a 36-hour, 400 person coding competition with over 26 sponsoring companies. This event will continue its legacy this Fall - adding to the entrepreneurial community on campus at Purdue.


    Current Position: senior at Purdue working on a project called Swag Swap, a clothes lending website, “a mix between AirBnB and Craig's List.”


    On ThinkChicago: “If you're a developer and you've even remotely considered looking for technology jobs, you need to be at this event! It's eye opening.”




    Joel Vasallo

    Depaul University


    “Difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week. Everyday is an opportunity to learn something new and to get better.”


    Joel’s is a classic story of the American dream. In 1980 his family left Cuba and came to the US through Madrid, Spain. It was not the shortest route, but the US did not have an Embargo with Spain, and his family were problem solvers. After spending time in New York, Joel’s family eventually ended up in Chicago where Joel has flourished. He graduated Summa Cum Laude and at the top of his class with a BS in information technology, and now works as an Application Engineer for Gogo inflight (The IVCA company of the year 2013). “ I love my job, and love the people I work with.”


    Joel describes sacrifice with odd degree of fondness. Sacrifice is something his mother has done throughout her entire life fro Joel and his family, unlike her brother and sister she forwent college to begin supporting the family, and when Joel’s father met an untimely death, he says, “my mother refused to give up on me; she is my biggest supporter. Working very hard, she continued to sacrifice a lot, putting me first, to put me through school. Joel did not take that for granted, and attributes sacrifice of his own for graduating Summa Cum Laude.


    “Money is money, it comes and goes. Appreciate it and be wise with it, but don't let it rule your life. Enjoy what you do, and you will be happy forever.”


    Current position: Application Engineer at Gogo. In addition to this, he is actively working on his own Python based programs, and pushing various automation tools


    On ThinkChicago: “It is arguably one of the best 3 day events that not only helps me improve oneself but also got to network and meet great people too!”


    “Chicago is growing, and its tech scene is its driving factor! With tech hubs popping up left and right, it is almost hard to miss! This partnered with the work ethic of Chicago's awesome citizens makes for one amazing city!"


    Twitter: @JoelVasallo

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