The word “innovation” can motivate and inspire, or it can feel like just another buzzword – especially when so many organizations are clamoring for the title of ‘innovation leader’. In the Chicago region, we’re fortunate to have a robust community of organizations and businesses working to define the hard work of innovation in concrete ways, and leaders working to show, not tell, what it means to have a thriving local innovation ecosystem.
In February, Current shared space with more than 30 innovation-focused organizations at Chicago Innovation’s and P33 Chicago’s Innovator’s Guide to Chicago event at the Museum of Contemporary Art. While Current’s focus is on the blue economy and water technologies, the other featured organizations spanned industries and sectors from venture capital, universities, and manufacturing startups, to clean energy. As curious Chicagoans stopped by our booth to learn more about our work, questions about water quality, innovation, and infrastructure were top of mind for students, designers, investors, and entrepreneurs.
A panel conversation with Tom Kuczmarski, Chris Gladwin, Jai Shekhawat, Matt McCall, Andrea Zopp, and Sandee Kastrul explored the distinguishing features that set Chicago’s innovation ecosystem apart from New York or Silicon Valley. The takeaways? Chicago’s Midwestern culture smooths the path to strategic partnerships and collaborations across sectors to solve problems and spur innovation. Chicago’s economy is diverse, with strengths spanning food and beverage manufacturing, logistics, health tech, and water. And, like many urban economies, Chicago’s must become more inclusive, bringing broader benefits and opportunities to more residents. In fact, Sandee is working to overcome this very challenge through an innovative program that trains inner-city adults to become tech and community leaders.