McGuire Sponsel Blog

Given the size and age of Chicago, it is hard to believe the term “emerging” could be tied to the city. However, that is exactly what a recent study by Modis found. To be more specific, this emerging city label is in reference to tech sector growth. Those surveyed were asked to determine which markets were poised to be transformed by the tech industry. The results put Chicago in the No. 1 position [1]. Additionally, KPMG recently announced its annual Global Technology Innovation report, which ranks Chicago as the sixth city in the world to be seen as a leading tech innovation hub [2]. So why do tech insiders believe Chicago will emerge to rival Silicon Valley?

Proof of this emerging tech sentiment can be seen in recent Chicago startup activity, as highlighted below:

  1. Chicago startup Uptake hit the $2 billion valuation milestone faster than any other tech company, achieving this feat in just 2.6 years.
  2. Illinois universities produced more than 800 startups from 2012 to 2016, nearly 100 percent more than 2009 to 2013 [3].
  3. Approximately 76 percent of startups founded from 2012 to 2016 are still active or were acquired, and 81 percent which is nearly 500 companies, remain in Illinois.
  4. Capital raised by university startups also surged in 2016, with nearly $630 million in funding raised from 2012 to 2016 compared with $345 million from 2011 to 2015. Of the companies that were founded in Illinois and received funding, almost 8 in 10 are still in Illinois.

What is driving the Chicago tech ecosystem?

Many point to Chicago’s plethora of coding schools and universities that continue to produce students with strong STEM backgrounds, in combination with the city’s lower cost of living, as the key ingredients to Chicago’s rise as an attractive location for startups. While the cost of living factor is a standard Midwest factor, Illinois universities have been proactive about fostering entrepreneurial endeavors. By committing to increase access to entrepreneurial resources and even seed funding, the universities are providing a launching pad for startups.

Many Illinois universities are offering centralized work spaces including; entrepreneurship centers, incubators and affiliated technology parks. For example, IllinoisVENTURES, the venture capital arm of the University of Illinois, provides funding as well as seed and venture capital to university startups. Since its inception in 2002, IllinoisVENTURES has invested more than $185 million in startup projects. And now, it is clear these efforts are providing a significant boost to the Chicago tech industry.

McGuire Sponsel’s location advisory and incentive planning services focus on identifying key value drivers, comprehensive site and cost comparison, multi-state incentive program education, and ongoing opportunity assessment. If your company is investing, expanding or adding jobs – incentives offered in Illinois and other site options, could significantly affect your decision process. To schedule your incentive planning session, call McGuire Sponsel at 317-564-5000 or email

[1] chosen by 51 percent of those surveyed

[2] up from 18th last year

[3] : for info from bullets 2-4.



Stephen Brunson

Stephen Brunson

As a Principal at McGuire Sponsel, Steve Brunson helps growing businesses across the country through location decisions while negotiating valuable economic incentives. He works closely with advisors to coordinate strategies that bring the greatest benefit to each client he serves. View Steve's bio.

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