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Science and Technology Leaders on Making Chicago an Innovation Hub

An all-women panel hosted by Kimberly Dowdell, a principal in HOK’s Chicago studio, discussed how Chicago can compete with coastal cities in creating a vibrant science and technology environment.

HOK’s second “The Third Coast” series on Chicago’s emerging science and technology landscape featured an all-star cast of women leaders in science, technology and development. Panelists representing World Business Chicago, the Illinois Medical District and City Tech Collaborative discussed Chicago’s successes and challenges when it comes to creating an active science and technology community.

Check out the full 1-hour discussion in the video below, and read a few key takeaways below.

On Branding

Andrea Zopp, president and CEO of World Business Chicago, noted that with two of the nation’s top hospitals and nearly 400 tech and life sciences startups, Chicago is one of the nation’s top healthcare and life sciences markets.

“Although we are doing well when you look at the numbers, when people think innovation they think Boston or the San Francisco area,” said Zopp. “We have some work to do to promote the assets that we have and the opportunities here.”

On Funding and Investment

Brenna Berman, CEO and executive director of City Tech Collaborative, noted the need for additional sources of funding—beyond venture capital—to fuel new startups, particularly for minority and women-owned businesses.

“One of the things that Chicago has started to do very well—but there is always room for more—is for corporations that call the Greater Chicago area home to step up and invest through partnerships or capital or mentoring, particularly when it comes to the incubation of women and minority-led startups,” said Berman. “Frankly, that is a key part of the success out in Silicon Valley or in the Boston area—the role that corporations play in the flow of ideas and capital.”

On Access and Concentration

Dr. Suzet M. McKinney, CEO and executive director of the Illinois Medical District, expressed her desire to improve access to Chicago’s existing science and tech infrastructure.

“When it comes to innovation districts or life sciences districts, one of our challenges is access. We have very talented people in our neighborhoods, young entrepreneurs who just don’t have the access to some of the world-class institutions or even some of our tech incubators,” said McKinney. “Part of the role would be to determine and identify ways to provide opportunities to those that don’t have access to some of those world-class institutions.”

McKinney also pointed out the need to cluster science and tech firms to spur interest and investment.

“If you look across the market, you see life sciences developments being planned or developed in areas across the city, which I think speaks to the importance of a holistic plan for our city,” said McKinney. “With development spread across the Chicago market, I think that limits our impact. If you look at the East Coast and the West Coast, they have a single anchor institution that makes a substantial investment in innovation and development but also in community engagement. As a result, their innovation plans tend to be more cohesive and very scalable.”

Related: The Third Coast: Chicago’s Emerging Science and Technology Sector (part 1)

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