Cementing Chicago as a tech hot spot

We should all be proud that Chicago is moving up in the rankings of the nation’s top tech cities. However, I am reminded by an article I read in this publication that, “there are signs that the six-year surge in tech jobs … is slowing.”

Ensuring that we keep this momentum going is vital. Not only is the tech sector important in terms of economic development and job creation, it is essential to our ability to attract and retain talent to our city. So, what can we do to cement our city as a sought-after technology epicenter? There’s no question that many private and public sector leaders are working on solutions. From my perspective, there are three overarching things we should keep top of mind.

Ask better questions

The better the question, the better the answer and the better the world works. This is why Chicago leaders need to ask better questions such as what technology needs exist in our market that aren’t being met? How do we properly showcase Chicago’s best attributes instead of always hearing about the worst? Could we have a stronger focus on STEM education? When we ask tough questions and take action based on our answers, we have a better shot at attracting entrepreneurs and venture capitalists and retaining the talent coming out of our top-notch universities. This, in turn, will also close the gap between Chicago and the current tech leaders in Boston and Silicon Valley.

Support entrepreneurship

EY recently released a study that showed 62 percent of millennials have considered starting their own business. However, 42 percent say they didn’t because they don’t have the financial means. This is why we need to constantly be looking for new ways to buttress entrepreneurs. Some of that support comes from startup technology incubators and innovation accelerators such as 1871 and Matter, or entire neighborhoods designed for tech talent and idea generation, such as the Fulton Market Innovation District.

No matter what level of success these organizations find, I am grateful to see people taking risks on less traditional ways to invest in our city’s tech entrepreneurs. I believe what we learn from these endeavors will undoubtedly help move us forward and remove barriers to entrepreneurship. For those of us more risk averse and not on the front lines, we can show our support by engaging our organizations in supplying thought leadership, talent, branding and financial backing. Because, as John Carpenter noted in a recent Forbes column, “When you open the process of innovation to anyone who might have something to contribute … technology races ahead.” And we all can find something to contribute.

Embrace disruption

The age of disruption is alive and well. I see this often as I’m fortunate to engage with numerous entrepreneurs through EY’s Entrepreneur Of The Year® program who have literally turned industries on their heads. For example, one Chicago-area company drives improvement in health outcomes by bringing innovative technology directly to patients in the doctor’s office when their health is top of mind.

For years, entrepreneurs have started businesses on the basis that a single great idea could upend an industry overnight. While this is true, as companies grow and become more successful, finding that great idea can become a challenge. If business leaders want to innovate, they ultimately need to disrupt their own business model. The sooner Chicago business leaders embrace digital disruption and welcome the convergence of their industries with many others, the sooner they will be attractive to top tech talent.

Chicago is heading in the right direction, we just need to keep our collective foot on the gas pedal. Ask tough questions. Seek unconventional ways to invest in entrepreneurs. Turn industries from energy to agriculture upside down to discover a better way to work. When we put the pedal to the metal we will enhance economic development and increase tech job creation and retention. Most importantly, we will create a legacy that cements Chicago as a top tech city for years to come.

Kim Simios is the Managing Partner of Ernst & Young LLP in Chicago.