ThinkChicago aims to keep city in graduates' thoughts
TEC News Stories
10/17/2012 10:33:00 AM
October 14, 2012 | By Ellen Jean Hirst, Chicago Tribune reporter
Program tries to sell Midwestern students on Chicago's opportunities
Jean Cruz was raised in the Philippines and he's lived in Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The University of Minnesota senior will graduate soon and he isn't afraid to move for work.
The 23-year-old is studying bioproduct marketing and said he's leaning toward working in Chicago after spending a few days in the city.
Cruz came to Chicago under the ThinkChicago program, a 2-year-old collaboration between the city of Chicago and the University of Illinois that introduces college juniors and seniors from across the Midwest to tech industry leaders in the hope they'll choose to work in Chicago after graduation.
During a stop at Chicago-based Groupon on Friday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and local executives took questions from this year's class of 100.
Neal Sales-Griffin, CEO and co-founder of The Starter League, a Web design and development education business, and Talia Mashiach, CEO and founder of online event planner Eved, joined Jeff Holden, Groupon's vice president of product management, and Emanuel at Groupon's River North headquarters.
"I'm loving Chicago," Holden said. "We're rewriting the book on local commerce here and we have an inextinguishable hunger for talent."
The ThinkChicago program doubled in size this year, with 100 students selected from a pool of more than 450 applicants. Fifty students came from the University of Illinois, which had about 250 applicants. The other half came from college in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota.
Acceptance criteria were a stellar academic record and a strong interest in entrepreneurship and technology fields.
While Silicon Valley has traditionally been the go-to place for startups, Emanuel told students it would be a mistake to dismiss Chicago.
"It's better to be a big fish in a little pond, than a little fish in a big pond," Emanuel said.
Transportation in the city was paid by U. of I. Students from out-of-state universities covered their own travel to the city and lodging.
Students asked questions about the city's ability to support entrepreneurship. Another asked if it's possible to raise money and garner support for a new company in Chicago.
"In order to be successful ... you have to really know that people are going to believe in you and give you that chance to do something," Mashiach said. "And I found that here in Chicago."
From 2010 to 2011, growth in digital technology startups surged locally, with a 56 percent increase, to 128, according to data collected by online community Built In Chicago.
Ciara Proctor, 20, a U. of I. computer science student, said she wants to stay in Chicago after she graduates. Raised in Chicago and a graduate of Northside College Preparatory High School, she said she attended ThinkChicago to answer: "What is there other than Google here?"