Haris Ahmed of Chicago: What Sets Chicago Startups from the Others?
Haris Ahmed, from Chicago, is the CEO and founder of Pragmatium Consulting Group, Inc., a management consulting company that conducts management and executive training in public relations. Today, he discusses the key differences between Chicago startups and their counterparts in the West Coast.
You might know the city of Chicago from its sports teams and the news. The Bulls, of which I am a huge fan, are among the most successful franchises in the NBA, and the Cubs just won the World Series. However, there is another side to Chicago which I think is receiving too little exposure in media. This is the Chicago of the young entrepreneurs, startups, and tech companies.
If you think about it, Chicago has all the tools it needs to become the next tech powerhouse. It has world-class higher learning institutions that have very strong IT programs, such as the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Loyola University Chicago, UIC, and Illinois Tech. The tech infrastructure is already there, and the inner city offers very low office space rental rates. But is the Windy City on the way to becoming the Midwest’s answer to Silicon Valley?
The answer is both yes and no. For one, about a hundred new tech businesses open shop every year. While not all of them succeed, the success rate is quite high, with the likes of Oomi, a provider of smart home solutions, raising almost $2 million through Indiegogo in 2015. Another startup, Beastgrip, raised more than $250,000 through Kickstarter for their line of smartphone photography products. These successes are as much products of innovative thinking as they are of excellent public relations, especially among smaller investors who are looking for the next big thing in tech.
Another factor that’s influenced the growth of tech in Chicagoland is that the local media no longer focuses on failed companies. A decade ago, a bank closure would’ve made the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times; one case of bad PR will instantly send shockwaves throughout the city. Now, companies are no longer afraid of failure and have accepted it as a normal part of a healthy business cycle.
However, businesses have tempered their optimism with a bit of pragmatism. This is Chicago, after all, and it faces a host of real-life issues that are unimaginable in northern California. For instance, startups are almost always expected to adopt a civic cause. In fact, many of them work with inner-city organizations to provide access to learning opportunities to the underprivileged. Others, on the other hand, seek to improve the state of public services in Chicago’s depressed areas.
This is where Chicago-centric PR comes in. There is a definite need to raise awareness of different issues that pervade the city and of the companies that seek to address them. A proper PR campaign for startups will seek out non-profits that seek to address specific issues, and allow them to collaborate on projects that involve the startups’ products.
With all of these factors present, it’s not hard to see why Chicago has also become a favored destination for entrepreneurs and investors alike, and getting your word out through proper public relations can spell the difference between success and failure in the Windy City.
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