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Why Chicago Needs to Recruit and Retain Great Tech Talent

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    NEWSLETTERS

    In my last post for the Inc. Well blog on NBCChicago.com, I talked about the importance of great talent being at the foundation of any successful startup ecosystem. That said, there is a lack of exceptional technology talent across the country and definitely in Chicago. 

    But we have hope.

    The city of Chicago, the state of Illinois and the greater Midwest is lucky to have a number of exceptional technical schools -- we just need to do a better job of recruiting and retaining talent individuals when they graduate.
     
    Computer scientists, engineers, designers, developers, programmers, coders, and hackers – whatever you want to call these incredibly talented people – are the ones who design and build the innovative products of a startup.  These technologists are the lifeblood of new technology-enabled solutions to business problems that run across industries like healthcare, mobile, financial services, travel, business services, marketing, payments and beyond.  Many startups have an innovative idea, but do not have the technical partners to make it a reality.
     
    An example of proactive action being taken to start solving this issue is Mayor Emanuel’s recent visit to the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.  The mayor came to meet the leaders and students of a Computer Science Program that is ranked No. 5 in the United States according to US News & World Report.  Graduates of this legendary program have created innovations such as the Internet browser, YouTube and Paypal, but many of them have taken their ideas to Northern California instead of staying here in Illinois.  Rahm Emanuel was the first Chicago mayor to ever visit Champaign-Urbana and he went on a mission – to recruit their talented students to work for Chicago companies – large, growth and startups included. 
     
    The panel discussion about the benefits of joining a Chicago company was moderated by, Rob Rutenbar, the head of the computer science department. He challenged panelists Brad Keywell from Lightbank/ Groupon, Eric Lunt from Brighttag, Mike Evans from Grubhub and the mayor about how Chicago’s merits stacked up against the coasts.  The panelists provided a number of compelling reasons that included quality of life, corporations and startups alike solving big problems, plenty of investment capital, high-speed connectivity, and a supportive community of entrepreneurs, business and government leaders.
     
    And it is not just the universities that are developing tech talent for Chicago.  The Starter League, one of our partners at 1871, is also an exciting solution to this talent issue.  Just a year old, this academy, where people from all over the world come to learn to code, design, and ship web apps, now has 110 students in their fall class who will hopefully join local companies – or start their own!
     
    We have an opportunity right now to attract some of this incredible technical talent from Midwestern schools to Chicago to build the next generation of high-growth companies that will have a massive economic impact for years to come.  The fact that Mayor Emanuel found it important to invite a room full of 19-year-old brilliant computer science students to come check out what Chicago has to offer was a big step in the right direction.

    Kevin Willer is the president and CEO of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center and 1871.