Back to Chicago
It was August of 2006 – I was an enthusiastic, somewhat nervous recent high school graduate headed off to New Haven, CT for college. Up to that point, I had always lived in Chicago, as had both of my parents and my grandparents before them.
While I had been lucky enough to travel a few times a year as a child to destinations across the USA (and on a some occasions abroad), I had never spent more than a couple of weeks away from the Windy City. I knew that I loved Chicago – I had a great childhood, many wonderful friends, and a loving, supportive family.
Still, I could not wait to leave. Like many eighteen year olds, I wanted to explore the world and embark on an adventure. I saw Chicago as a somewhat boring city dominated by old line industries like rail, manufacturing, commodities, and finance with barely a tech company to speak of.
For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with technology and entrepreneurs, and I thought that the most interesting, innovative companies, people, and ideas did not exist in my hometown. I wanted to be a part of a thriving, growing metropolis that set trends and built products for the entire world to use, and thought that I would end up in San Francisco, New York, London, or some other world hub where it was all happening.
Seven years later, I’m moving back to Chicago, and I could not be more excited. I have certainly changed, but so has the city. Chicago in 2013 looks dramatically different than it did in 2006.
First of all, Groupon happened. While much of the tech world pokes fun of Groupon, the kind of overnight growth that the company spawned is an incredibly rare thing – and a high growth, multi-billion dollar tech company is helpful for any startup ecosystem. While the incredible growth of Groupon certainly attracted talent, capital, and support for the Chicago tech community, it is only part of the story.
Big, established tech companies are growing their presence in Chicago, and startups are sprouting everywhere. After purchasing Motorola Mobility last year, Google announced that they leased more than 600,000 square feet of space at the Merchandise Mart in the heart of the city – just down the hall from 1871, an incredible coworking space, incubator, and tech hub that opened last year in the same building.
Venture Capital investment in Chicago has increased markedly in the last few years, and the range of companies starting and growing in Chicago has exploded. Firms like Belly, TrunkClub, Threadless, BrainTree, Starter League, and Coyote Logistics range in focus from consumer to enterprise, e-commerce to education, and make for a vibrant and interesting startup scene.
Don’t get me wrong – Chicago is no Silicon Valley – but I would neither expect nor want it to be like Palo Alto. I’ve spent the last few years building a company in New Haven, a MUCH smaller city, as part of a tiny tech community – and I’ve seen how fun and invigorating it is to build a startup ecosystem. Chicago is much larger and more developed than New Haven, but the technology industry is still in the early stages of development. I can’t want to be a part of it.