The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce hosted a special event on Wednesday, February 15 in partnership with Google to bring together Chicago’s tech community around the city’s opportunity to serve as a world leader in socially-minded innovation.
The event, Technology Innovation for Social Good, was hosted at Google’s Chicago flagship in Fulton Market, and drew nearly 200 registrants from every side of Chicago’s innovation economy.
“This is something that is very deeply personal to me,” said Deputy Mayor for Neighborhood and Economic Development Samir Mayekar during his opening remarks. “I was an entrepreneur. I love our startup ecosystem. I lived it. And I chose to build my company on the South side for a reason. And that experience really led me to think about how to serve the public.”
The program was presented by Cooley LLP, and featured a discussion with leading experts throughout the tech sector who are on the front lines of using technology to solve both global and local challenges.
The panel, moderated by the new Chair of the Chamber’s Tech Council and Senior Vice President of Business Development at Cooley Alya Adamany Woods, featured Google’s Head of Global Partnerships and Strategic Investments Jeff Buchan, Executive Director & Founder of Code Your Dreams Brianne Caplan, Manager of Technology Talent at CME Group Betsi Pinkus, and Tech Elevator’s Co-Founder & CEO Anthony Hughes.
“Google’s mission at its core has always been a social mission, which is to organize the world’s information and to make it universally accessible and useful,” said Buchan. “I think we are at our best when we are leveraging technology to tackle the really big problems and build solutions for everyone.”
Google’s Project Relate, an Android app which allows individuals with speech impairments can utilize the latest advancements in speech recognition to help them be more universally understood, is just one of the types of technological innovations with tremendous spillover benefits that were discussed as a part of the program.
And some of the boldest challenges are coming from the youngest members of Chicago’s tech community, including the K-12 students working with Chicago-based non-profit Code Your Dreams.
“It’s really special to see our students who are in different neighborhoods really show how they can see a problem and solve it with technology,” said Caplan. “It’s all very personal for our students.”
The students graduating from programs like Code Your Dreams are quickly becoming a part of a booming Chicago tech ecosystem, which now represents 18 percent of the city’s workforce – according to the Chicago Tech Effect, a joint study between the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Google, and HR&A Advisors.
“What’s perhaps more important – and more unique to Chicago than any other national tech hub – is that we have been able to grow this vital sector of our economy with an intentionality and focus on equity that no other city can match,” said Jack Lavin, President and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber. “As an example, The Chicago Tech Effect shows that this widespread tech growth in Chicago is already fueling upward mobility and greater economic equality throughout the city. Median wages are 1.5X higher in the Chicago tech ecosystem, and half of the top 10 tech occupations are accessible to those without a college degree.
What’s particularly encouraging is that Chicago outperforms national averages for diversity in tech. Chicago exceeds the national average of Black and Latino employment in the tech ecosystem by over 50%. And 34% of startups were founded by women, the highest share among global tech hubs.”
Organizations like Tech Elevator, which trains individuals across the country for in-demand careers in tech, recognize the impact that can have on communities.
“The thing that I’m so excited about in terms of the workforce is that technology, as an opportunity, is probably one of the most meritocratic places in our economy today,” said Hughes. “I love that. I think that’s such an amazing opportunity to move people into the middle class, no matter what their background is.”
Graduates from these types of pipeline programs are in-demand – not just at traditional tech companies, but organizations with massive technological needs, like CME Group – who are committed to the continued growth of their employees so that they can be a part of the virtuous cycle of community driven impact.
“We really do try to create pathways from really early on, through when they’re on the job to ensure that they are successful,” said Pinkus.
At its core, social impact has always been a hallmark of Chicago’s innovation ecosystem, and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce is proud to partner with organizations like Google, Code Your Dreams, CME Group, Tech Elevator, and Cooley to drive a new era of purpose-driven economic growth that will not only set Chicago apart as a global tech hub, but blaze a bold new path forward to change the world for the better.