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Established in 2002 as the Chicago Innovation Awards, Chicago Innovation has grown from a single awards ceremony to a year-round series of events and programs to empower Chicago’s innovation ecosystem. Its vision is to solidify the Chicago region as a global hub of innovation and ensure that innovation is for everyone.



With a focus on building the spirit of innovation throughout the Chicago region and a deep commitment to inclusion, Chicago Innovation hosts events year-round where people come together to share ideas, find opportunities and build relationships with leaders in business, non-profit, government, academia and the investor community. With over 36,000 people in its network as of 2021, Chicago Innovation now boasts the largest group of innovators across industries, sectors and company sizes in the region.

Through hosting the Chicago Innovation Awards, the region’s foremost annual celebration of innovation, the organization routinely celebrates Chicago’s brand as a center of innovation. Out of the past 335 winners of the Chicago Innovation Awards, 98% are still in business. 59 winning companies have been acquired with exit values exceeding $110 billion. The city’s stature is elevated further when the winners of the Chicago Innovation Awards promote their achievements by ringing the Nasdaq Bell in New York City. In fact, Chicago is the only city in the country that rings the Nasdaq Bell.



As the organization evolved, Chicago Innovation launched three key programs to advance its vision that innovation is for everyone. In 2015, the Women’s Mentoring Co op was started to help women connect, innovate and grow. Over 700 women have participated in mentoring relationships to date. In 2017, Chicago Innovation acquired the Chicago Student Invention Convention to teach the skills of creativity, problem-solving and invention to K-8th grade students. Over 20,000 students have taken part in this 10-week invention curriculum and city-wide competition of student-created prototypes. Several Chicago students have received patents for their inventions, and taken home top honors at Invention Convention Nationals, a competition that brings together the best young inventors from across the country each year. In 2019, the organization launched Ageless Innovators, a first-of-its-kind intergenerational co-mentoring program to connect leaders across generations. The organization is also launching The Ladder, a mentoring program to support Black and Latinx innovators reach their next step.



Looking forward, Chicago Innovation plans to continue its role as a leading convener of innovators, regardless of industry, gender, ethnicity, age, or geographic location in the Chicago region. Furthermore, the organization’s leadership is steadfast in its pursuit of evangelizing the Chicago region as a top destination for innovators. In 2020, the organization published “Rising Together: The Story of Chicago’s Innovation Ecosystem,” a book that shares the story of the people, organizations and culture that helped propel Chicago onto the national stage as a global leader in innovation. In speaking with over 30 of the most influential figures in Chicago’s innovation community, the authors provide a blueprint for what’s needed to ensure that the city can further strengthen its position as a center of creative activity.

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