Chicago had 14,014 tech businesses in 2017 and 341,600 tech workers across all industries, an increase of 4,000 from the year prior, tying the city with Boston for the second most innovative in the nation. And according to a PitchBook report, Chicago companies now offer the highest venture capital returns of any startup hub in the U.S., with 81 percent of Chicago exits having a 3-to-10x return. So, as we sprint to stay ahead of the ‘next big thing’ in tech here in Chicago, we want to know: what helped propel the city to stardom and what is needed to maintain the Windy City’s spot as a leading innovator?
Highwire’s 10th anniversary this October gave us the perfect opportunity to reflect on the Chicago tech scene and take a look at what’s to come in the next ten years. For a deeper dive, we went straight to the experts. Highwire’s Chicago office hosted some of the sharpest minds in tech and communications for a panel discussion. We discussed the thriving tech landscape in the city, how it’s evolved and unique new PR tactics companies are using to get the word out in an increasingly competitive landscape. Here’s what we learned:
- #Humblebrag, Y’all: Lisa Jillson, head of marketing at Arity, believes Chicago-based companies need to start humble bragging about themselves more. True to Midwest values, local tech companies aren’t giving themselves enough credit, and it’s time to start. Reporters, venture capital firms and investors are seeking those who are looking at industry challenges from a different viewpoint and, as a result, have a story to tell. It is becoming increasingly tough for companies that lurk in the shadows to build their brand. Stay grounded Midwesterners, but start walking the walk and talking the talk.
- Deviate From the Norm: Ally Marotti, tech reporter for the Chicago Tribune, sparked an a-ha moment in the audience when she shared the number one element she looks for in her reporting: “news is a deviation from the norm.” Yes, pitches about a company’s 20-year anniversary are fun, but is it news? Does it offer a fresh perspective on an otherwise stale topic or challenge the status quo, and why now? These are the questions communications professionals need to be asking themselves. News is a deviation from the norm — that’s what makes a story.
- Utility, Relatability and Entertainment: Hassan Ali, former creative director for the Onion, doubled as our comedian for the night while providing three key components to succeeding in today’s tech marketing world. When marketing a product, Hassan said it has to challenge what it was originally meant to do or be. Finding new ways to look at an old product is imperative to appeal to consumers across all generations. The brand strategy needs to be relatable and entertaining. Companies that can tie humor into a campaign or take a risk to turn the brand into something it wasn’t intended to be are the thought leaders who can dominate the market.
- The Future of Tech is Female: Betsy Ziegler, CEO for 1871, garnered a round of applause when she told the room that 30 percent of tech CEOs in Chicago are women, and this number is expected to grow. Tech incubators are fostering opportunities for female entrepreneurs with big ideas and major tech companies are racing to recruit these powerful future leaders. Women are leading the charge and taking the tech scene by storm in Chicago. So, who run the world? Girls (in tech).
In order to maintain our post as a city driving innovation, Chicago’s tech innovators need to adopt a strong communications program that leverages these insights. We have the tech, we have the talent — it’s time to show it off and spread the word. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for our amazing city. Cheers to the next ten years!