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Mayor intent on making Chicago a ‘start-up city’

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces thThinkChicago program started last year bring best brightest students from around Midwest conjunctiwith Chicago Ideas Week

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces that ThinkChicago, a program started last year to bring the best and brightest students from around the Midwest in conjunction with Chicago Ideas Week, will double in size.He made the announcement at 1871, a space for digital startup compaines. Friday, June 29, 2012 I Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 1, 2012 6:13AM

Bemoaning the loss of PayPal and YouTube that started in Chicago and left for the Silicon Valley, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday he’s determined not to let the “next big thing” get away.

He’s literally doubling-down on a campaign promise to bring college students from across the Midwest to Chicago to convince them to start their careers and businesses here.

Last year, 50 outstanding seniors from schools in Illinois and seven Midwest state were invited to Chicago for an action-packed weekend that mixed business and fun.

They visited Chicago businesses and firms with offices here, such as Groupon, Google, Grubhub, Microsoft and Accenture, to learn about job opportunities.

They attended panel discussions with industry leaders on topics ranging from innovation and tech entrepreneurship to how to start a career in Chicago.

The seniors even sampled Chicago’s rich cultural institutions and pulsating night life and got passes to Chicago Ideas Week, a seven-day event featuring marquee speakers and interactive sessions that Emanuel and Groupon co-founder Brad Keywell hope will someday take its place among the best known idea symposiums in the nation.

This year, ThinkChicago will double—to 100 students—with half the slots reserved for outstanding juniors and seniors from the University of Illinois.

Emanuel made the announcement at 1871, a new start-up center at the Merchandise Mart that helps connect entrepreneurs to would-be investors, mentors, partners and peers.

He noted that there is “an energy” in Chicago today that “did not exist” when Groupon was starting out.

“Remember You Tube? Pay Pal? They started here, but they thought they had to get to the coast. If those companies were around today in this type of venture position, they would not have to go to the coast.

They would have all the pieces: talent, capital and innovation,” Emanuel said.

“We have over a thousand digital tech companies now in the city of Chicago. 128 start-ups launched in Chicago last year alone. Our venture capital--$1 billion—is up 50 percent. That’s in just a year. There is a new energy. The Second City is becoming the Start-Up City. That’s our goal.”

Emanuel pointed to 21-year-old Neil Gupta as “living proof” of his argument about Chicago’s maturity as a start-up city. Last year, the Illinois Institute of Technology graduate was one of the 50 students participating in the first- ever ThinkChicago. This year, he’s starting his own company—and keeping it in Chicago—instead of returning to the Silicon Valley where he grew up.

“Programs like ThinkChicago are encouraging more students to stay and build in Chicago. We have a high

density of amazing universities and students here who just need to be fostered properly to innovate and build the next big thing,” Gupta said.

“Last week, Mayor Emanuel forecasted that Chicago would be considered a start-up hub in three years. Thanks to programs like ThinkChicago and spaces like 1871, I fully agree with that prediction.”

Gupta’s company, Tabule, was incorporated this month with $25,000 in seed money from Catapult.

Tabule is an application-based classroom productivity tool designed to help students discuss lecture topics and ask each other questions, organize study groups and interact with professors.

“Your parents are gonna be very proud of you for making the right decision about Chicago,” Emanuel told Gupta.

“He never would be in the situation of incorporating in Silicon Valley. It’s just not possible….Neil is living proof that it can happen.”

ThinkChicago is a two-day event that will be held during the week of Oct. 8-to-14 coinciding with

Chicago Ideas Week. Applications are due Sept. 7 and are available at

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