Awarding and Rewarding Innovation

Federal policymakers have repeatedly stressed innovation as the central strategy for economic recovery and long-term U.S. growth. Luke Tanen, the director of the 10-year-old Chicago Innovation Awards, recommends that one effective approach to stimulate innovation is to make it a local matter.

For the last 10 years, Chicago has been celebrating the creative spirits of the region through the annual Chicago Innovation Awards. Ten winners are picked each year based on innovations that “uniquely fill unmet needs, spark a competitive response in the marketplace, exceed market expectations, achieve financial success, and improve people’s lives.” The winners emerge from a variety of sectors—public, private, and non-profit.

Over time, the Chicago Innovation Awards has grown to be much more than just an awards ceremony. It has helped stimulate regional development, generate new jobs for the local economy, and spread the innovation spirit to its neighbors in the Midwest. For instance, more than 200 venture capitalists from all over the country attended last year’s inaugural pitch day, hosted by new Chicago business incubator Excelerate Labs. Ten local start-ups participated in an intensive 13-week mentorship program and then presented to a room full of potential investors. Eight of the 10 startups have raised a combined $7.2 million in venture funding since the pitch day.

Moreover, according to a sample of 27 companies that won Chicago Innovation Awards, these winners have added more than 10,000 jobs locally and nationally.  Perhaps the most widely known success story is Groupon.   Groupon, a 2009 winner, has grown from just a few employees to over 7,000 in Chicago and around the globe within three years.

The Chicago model is spreading quickly around the Midwest. For example, the Indiana Innovation Awards was recently established to closely follow its Chicago counterpart.  Similar programs are taking place in Michigan and Ohio as well.

Posted by: Hyun Kyong Lee

Sources: Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Chicago Innovation Awards, Excelerate Labs

Photo Credit: innovation – 3 courtesy of flickr user nyoin

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