Explore Chicago's Innovation Ecosystem
Chicago is a hub of tech innovation, a booming center for cutting edge companies like Groupon, GrubHub, Threadless and Google to thrive – where young entrepreneurs grow big ideas, transform industries and shape technology and business as we know it.
From July 27-29th, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Lollapalooza, World Business Chicago, and the University of Illinois will invite 150 university students from across the country to tour Chicago’s fast-growing tech scene.
Attendees of the ThinkChicago program will have a chance to visit business headquarters, directly engage with entrepreneurs and leaders of some of today's most innovative tech companies, and attend the 4-day Lollapalooza music festival.
Each year Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with World Business Chicago and the University of Illinois, host ThinkChicago to bring the brightest university students from across the country to connect with Chicago’s vibrant technology ecosystem during two of Chicago’s signature cultural events, Lollapalooza and Chicago Ideas Week.
Here's a look at a past ThinkChicago event:
Learn about our speakers
Digital Strategist & User Experience Designer
Sharon Bautista is a Chicago-based user experience designer currently working for a digital agency. Previously, she practiced human-centered design in financial services, higher education, and museums. Sharon is a co-organizer of the UX Book Club of Chicago, and teaches part-time in the Interactive Arts & Media department at Columbia College Chicago.
Director Data Science at Uptake
Adam McElhinney is currently the Director of Data Science at Uptake Technologies, where he leads a team of Data Scientists building cutting-edge industrial data analytics tools. Formerly, he was the Head of Business Analytics and the Head of Marketing Analytics at Enova Financial where he helped grow the company from a small startup to an international online lending leader that currently employs more than 1,000 associates in the Chicagoland area. He has previously worked as a management consultant as well as an analyst designing simulations for the Department of Defense.
Adam is serving his sixth year on the Board of the Chicago Chapter of the American Statistical Association and is also the Director of the Mentorship Program for the HFS Chicago Scholars.
Adam holds a Masters in Statistics from University of Illinois-Chicago and has undergraduate degrees in Mathematics, Economics and Political Science from Indiana University-Bloomington.
Co-Founder of The Starter League
Mike McGee is the co-founder of The Starter League, an in-person school in Chicago that teaches 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).
CEO of kCura
Andrew Sieja founded kCura as a software consultancy in February 2001 and successfully pivoted it into a fast-growing enterprise software company in 2007. Andrew loves technology, is a computer programmer by trade, and prior to starting kCura has worked as a technologist for a variety of multi-nationals and consulting firms. As CEO, Andrew has five key goals for kCura: offer a great product, provide relentless customer support, ensure team members love their jobs, positively impact the community, and grow to be a great software company.
Founder of Tiny Docs
Sunny is on a mission to make a billion people smile. In 2014 he founded Tiny Docs, a web platform that educates kids and families about health issues through animated short films.
Prior to founding Tiny Docs, Sunny was an entertainment attorney for several filmmakers, celebrity chefs, actors, producers, screenwriters, and NBA players. In addition, he has produced two short films that have screened at the Soho International Film Festival and Cannes International Film Festival short film corner.
Sunny earned his J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Pittsburgh in Political Science and minors in English literature and Economics. In December 2015 he will earn an additional master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and Integrated Marketing and Communication. If he had one wish, he would make Shark Week twice a year.
Learn about past participants in the ThinkChicago program
“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.”
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.“
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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!"
Thank you to our Think Chicago sponsors