It's not unusual for a city or region to hold events designed to attract and foster entrepreneurship. What's impressive about Chicago Ideas Week (CIW), the Windy City's foray into this area of economic development, is how quickly it's grown and the notable people it has attracted. Groupon co-founder Brad Keywell founded the event, which takes place October 14 through 23. Here's how they went from zero to an expected 25,000+ attendees in three years.
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Groupon is one of Chicago's hometown success stories and Keywell wanted to foster entrepreneurship and new ideas in his own backyard. He formed Chicago Ideas Week as a nonprofit and has enlisted the involvement of the mayors' offices—first Richard Daley and now Rahm Emanuel -- for each event. Using Keywell's cachet as a highly successful entrepreneur and tapping other Chicago-based successes like advertising agency Leo Burnett, t-shirt company Threadless, and various regional institutions like the Adler Planetarium, Illinios Institute of Technology and others.
These high-profile participants and venues have helped the event attract other luminaries. Among this year's 200 speakers are former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Meet the Press host David Gregory, and activist Elizabeth Smart, to name a few.
Instead of creating an event that was all business all the time, the CIW team develops programs across a broad swath of disciplines ranging from art and music to technology and crime-fighting. Keywell wanted to find solutions and fresh ideas by sharing information with people who have different life experiences and cultural influences.
The event includes dozens of talks, labs and master classes in business, technology, architecture, art, and even butchering. CIW's full-day Edison Talks component requires application and is limited to 900 attendees. Additional features like the GE Garage will be equipped with 3D printers, CNC mills, laser cutters, and other tools, and staffed with experts to help you learn these systems. Evening technology and financial programs are "like intellectual rock concerts. They're exciting, and there's surprise, and there's music. There's great conversation," he says.
Keywell says this was important to allow attendees to choose a variety of subjects based on their interest levels and differentiate them from typical seminars. Rather than being exclusive and expensive, he wanted everything to be as accessible as possible to encourage people of different means to attend. Tickets for the dozens of talks, labs and master classes can be purchased a la carte for $15 each.
"There are not a lot of organizations [bring together] diverse people like scientists, poets, entrepreneurs, artists," says Keywell. "When I created Ideas Week, part of the vision is this can be a connective tissue among all these provocative thinkers and doers in our community to create a solutions platform."
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