UChicago impacts on Chicago’s Startup Ecosystem

The University of Chicago is making a unique impact within Chicago’s startup scene.  Although the University was an early partner with 1871, the school has a light footprint within the 1871 offices compared to The Starter League, for example, which holds classes on computer coding or Tech Stars, which runs a large startup accelerator.  But while the University’s influence may not be palpable at the tech hub on a day-to-day basis the school is a significant participant in the city’s tech and startup scenes.  The University, most famous for its history of hardline economists and frank sociological research on race and poverty, has set deep roots in the city’s technology and entrepreneurship communities.

One influencer coming out of the school’s Hyde Park campus is The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, a rising star at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.  The Polsky Center, founded in 2002, received a doubled endowment in 2012 to continue educating students on entrepreneurship and innovation.  The Center is unique in that it provides students with office space and resources to launch a business while studying at the University of Chicago.

There is a creative edge to the companies that Polsky Center students are starting.   At the Center’s demo day this August, for example, there were startups in health, science, art and fashion.  One startup that demo-ed creates documentary videos of senior citizens.   Another, a startup clothing company, designs fashions based on vintage photographs of college life.

The Data Science for Social Good fellows were a less forefront member of the city’s tech scene but became part of a strong open data and civic data mining movement in Chicago.  The fellowship, which ran for the first time this summer, brought aspiring data scientists from around the world to the University of Chicago to mine Chicago’s data.  Like the Open City movement, one idea behind the fellowship was that social good comes about when smart people are brought together to solve public problems with data.  The Data Science for Social Good program ascribed to a sort of data mining volunteerism–in August, for example, the group decided to assist Divvy Bikes with keeping the rental bikes from piling up outside full bike return stations.  Fellows studied routes for trucks that pick up Divvy Bikes and began building a predictive model for pile ups.    There was a sort of romantic appreciation for one’s civic duty to serve built into the data mining fellowship.

The Hyde Park Angels are a third group influencing Chicago’s tech and entrepreneurship scene from the University of Chicago.  The Angels are a venture capital group with members in business, venture capital, and private equity.  The group has invested in some big names among Chicago startups like Simple Relevance, Moxie Jean, Park Whiz, and Fee Fighters.  Founded in 2006, Hyde Park Angles brings together a network of investors, industry partners and sponsors to develop startups into early-stage businesses.

Combined, these University of Chicago ventures are creating businesses, incubating student-run startups, and bringing civic activism to a mainstream academic audience.  Traditionally, real estate development and academic research at the University of Chicago have garnered the most attention from community organizations and city government but this may change as the technology and entrepreneurship community in Chicago continues to grow.  The University’s impact on Chicago is evolving along with the city. ❒

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