P33 is a bold effort to harness Chicago’s many assets in order to get the city its fair share of the new jobs generated by the burgeoning technology sector. Started by former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, the initiative takes its inspiration from the Century of Progress World’s Fair that was held in Chicago in 1933, the first-ever convening around the promise of technology. And there is real ground to make up, given that Chicago ranks No. 8 in start-ups, No. 7 in start-up valuation and No. 10 in new STEM workers.
Brad Henderson, a former partner at consulting firm BCG, was named CEO of P33 yesterday and referred to Chicago as having Tier I assets but Tier II performance. “I want to make Chicago a place where you can find local talent to solve your innovation problem,” he said. “You can go around the corner for a cup of coffee instead of taking a plane from O’Hare Airport to the Bay Area. We have lots of strengths, including 600,000 jobs in life science and a great legacy of making industrial products.” Chicago will make its first priority the “driving of cluster commercialization.” The city has top-class academic institutions, capital, and large companies (No. 3 in Fortune 500 list). “These operate in silos,” Henderson said. “There is too little opportunity to take an idea from lab to commercialization. We want to be more like Boston in the tight connection between schools and companies,” Henderson said.
A study group headed by Henderson identified some ecosystem pitfalls that lead to “weak translation of R&D to corporate needs.” Among them are limited collaboration among ecosystem players, limited access to seed funding and shortage of entrepreneurial talent. So strong R&D assets and strong end-industry players do not mesh.
Henderson suggested three clusters where Chicago can win. First is in Industry 4.0, specifically in the making and moving of things via advanced manufacturing and supply chain logistics. Second, Life and Health Sciences, especially in medical technology, agricultural biotechnology and biopharmaceutical. Third, Business IT, the management of information, with digitized B2B products and back-office platforms.
There will be a Center for Innovation at Scale, which will inventory local tech and research resources for each of the three clusters. The Center will link with area companies to scale innovation capabilities. There is also a search for physical space for startups, next door to corporate anchor tenants. There will be a specific effort to target the under-represented populations of color, with corporate internships and apprenticeships. There will actually be specific diversity targets for ecosystem players.
To make P33 a success, Chicago needs to tell the story of why and how it can serve as headquarters to start-ups and entrepreneurs, and meet the needs of tech-infused companies and workforces. It needs to speak to tech media and engage influencers, touting its heroes and success stories. Edelman Chicago is partnering with FCB to make this a reality. The city has the non-profit digital start-up incubator 1871 and entrepreneurs such as Brad Keywell. Allstate has partnered with the University of Chicago Computer Science and Discovery Partners Institute to develop a set of next-generation AI algorithms to enable real-time underwriting at scale. For the 200th anniversary of Chicago’s founding (1833), we are going to do our part to assure that the city achieves its dream.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.