Is Chicago the next Silicon Valley?

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By: Kristin Eline

“The next Silicon Valley” is a phrase often used by many emerging tech-hubs across the country. Silicon Valley is home to many of the world’s largest tech companies, such as Google, as well as thousands of small startups. This booming tech scene is hard to replicate and is near impossible to catch up with. Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871, proposed a different way of viewing tech expansion when he said, “Trying to compete in someone else’s game never makes sense. If you can change the game or re-characterize it, that’s great.”

Tullman makes a great point. Chicago is arguably one of the greatest cities in the world, it does not need to be the “next” anything. The city famously bustles with excitement while staying true to its Midwestern roots. People travel from far and wide to admire the city’s beautiful architecture, taste delicious cuisine from world class restaurants, and shop at hundreds of luxury boutiques and department stores along the Magnificent Mile. However, the city’s appeal stretches far beyond food and shopping, Chicago’s tech scene continues to expand with no end in sight. While we don’t need to be the “next big” anything there is plenty of evidence to make the case for how Chicago is dominating the tech space and cultivating its own Windy City version of a tech-hub.

All signs point (River) North. If you ask any Chicagoan to describe River North, they are likely to tell you about the trendy restaurants, swanky apartments, modern offices, and the prime nightlife locations.  However, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, River North used to be known as Skid Row. As the area underwent a major facelift and started attracting new businesses, the tech industry took note. So much so that office rents in the district marked the third-largest increase in the U.S. neighborhood where high-tech companies cluster. The area is now home to a number of tech startups as well as top players in the industry such as YELP, Groupon, etc.

Garage turned office? No thanks. Thanks to 1871, Chicago’s own startup incubator, entrepreneurs are no longer forced to transform their garage into an office. Instead, 1871 provides today’s tech visionaries with a creative space to innovate, and a community of inspiring individuals to collaborate with. Not only are members of 1871 able to build out their product, but they are encouraged to learn from attending different classes, seminars and programs. PackBack is a true testament to the success that can come from 1871, after appearing on ABC’s SharkTank and receiving an investment from Mark Cuban for $250,000

On the fast track. There are range of ways Chicago has demonstrated rapid growth in the tech scene, from growing its own tech startups to attracting top tech companies and talent. One of the most impressive metrics may be how fast Chicago based tech companies are growing. The Windy City boasted an impressive 95 companies on Inc. 5000’s fastest growing private companies for 2014, earning the number two spot behind New York City, for number of companies to makes this year’s list. Of these 95 Chicago-based companies, roughly half are either in the software industry or have a special emphasis on technology. One of nine Chicago based companies to break this year’s 500 list was ÄKTA, a leading digital experience and engagement consultancy.

These are just a few of the notable ways in which Chicago is quickly making a name for itself as one of the country’s leading tech hubs. It may not be the next Silicon Valley, nor does it need to be. The Windy City has its own way of doing things