P33 is turbocharging Chicagoland’s tech to accelerate economic growth, opportunity and equity for … [+] all Chicagoans.
Not often do three of the most influential leaders come together and challenge an entire city to reach its full potential. Well, that is exactly what happened in Chicago.
Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Chicago-native Penny Pritzker, Chicago tech entrepreneur and founder of Ocient and Cleversafe Chris Gladwin, and Civic Committee and Commercial Club of Chicago President Kelly Welsh, gathered a diverse group of Chicago leaders and community stakeholders to answer a perplexing question – why is Chicago, a city home to more than thirty Fortune 500 companies, multiple world-class research universities and a vibrant startup ecosystem, not one of the U.S.’s leading technology and innovation hubs?
After months of meetings and research, the group emerged with a plan and launched P33 with a mission to turbocharge Chicagoland’s tech economy to accelerate economic growth, opportunity and equity for all Chicagoans.
“P33 actively looks to remove obstacles and address pressing challenges in our tech ecosystem,” Brad Henderson, CEO of P33, explained. “Once we identify a roadblock or an inefficiency, we work to bring together the right mix of institutions, communities and individuals that we’ll partner with to launch solutions aimed at alleviating or eliminating that specific challenge.”
This private sector-led organization has been officially off the ground as a fully operational 501c(3) for about a year now, and already has multiple programs set in place to have a lasting impact on its Chicagoland community.
Chicago Tech’s Catalyst and the COVID-19 Curveball
Just as P33 began to put its 2020 plans into motion, COVID-19 started spreading – fast – to shut down Chicago, the state of Illinois, the nation and our world. The virus immediately put P33’s founding principles to the test – to partner with the Chicago community to address an urgent challenge: responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
“The onset of COVID-19 pushed us to kick things into high gear,” reflected Henderson. “We immediately examined our current portfolio to figure out where we needed to focus our attention and how we could help the city combat this virus.”
Those conversations led to the launch of the Chicagoland COVID-19 Data Commons (CCC), a project that unleashes the power of data to aid in the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In partnership with MATTER, a healthcare startup incubator, and the Open Commons Consortium, a not-for-profit that manages data commons to support scientific, medical and healthcare research, the CCC allows hospitals and healthcare organizations to upload data into a shared, open-source digital platform. Data experts, scientists and researchers can access and analyze that data to aid their research efforts around the pandemic.
“I think it’s extremely important that we have a fact-based approach to addressing this public health crisis, and that is what this data commons is trying to do. This is particularly important as COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting minority communities,” remarked Pritzker.
One of the critiques of the existing COVID-19 datasets is that they do not allow for granular analysis at the community level. For a city like Chicago that’s home to numerous neighborhoods that are different from one another, ensuring community leaders understand the virus’ impact on their specific neighborhood is essential to providing residents with the care and resources they need. With the CCC, researchers have access to data at the neighborhood-level, which can be analyzed to provide tailored recommendations to community leaders on what their residents need to respond to COVID-19. Armed with the power of data from the CCC, community leaders are empowered to make better decisions on how to effectively serve their communities.
“We know that COVID-19 has hit minority communities disproportionately, including in Chicago. Black and brown communities have experienced roughly three times the impact. A one-size-fits-all approach to address COVID isn’t appropriate. What’s powerful about the CCC is that it allows for the creation of specific solutions that are tailored to each community’s needs,” said P33’s SVP of Health and Life Sciences, Michelle Hoffmann.
The impact of COVID-19 has extended beyond health – it’s also weighed heavily on our economy as companies have had to cut employees and even close their storefronts. With budgets tighter than ever before, reentering the workforce can seem impossible for those who have been furloughed or laid-off.
Seeing an opportunity to help Illinoisans whose jobs have been displaced as a result of COVID-19, P33 partnered with Discovery Partners Institute to launch TechReady Illinois, an effort to help residents gain new digital skills at steeply discounted tuition rates to help open doors to new job opportunities. Illinois residents can access courses in computer science, cybersecurity, data analytics and more from participating institutions including the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois System, the Illinois Institute of Technology and City Colleges of Chicago, with additional programming from partners like Coursera and i.c.stars.
P33 also worked with Slalom Consulting to research how technology can help mitigate the pandemic’s burden and reinvigorate our economy. Together, the organizations shared research findings with Discovery Partners Institute and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign’s (UIUC) Rokwire development team – comprised of computer and social scientists, entrepreneurs and philosophers focused on building the future operating system for the cities – to inform the development of the UIUC Pandemic Response System, a solution designed to help institutions navigate how to re-open safely. The integrated system uses mobile app technology to manage testing results, exposure notification, scheduled testing and campus access.
What’s Next in Chicago Tech
As the economy starts to reopen, the non-profit says the team is beginning to shift its focus on addressing some of its original initiatives, like closing the gender gap by eliminating roadblocks that hinder or even prevent women from pursuing careers in certain industries.
COVID-19 has heavily impacted working women. Roughly 60% of the jobs that were eliminated following the first wave of the pandemic were held by women. P33 is teaming up with the national organizations Break Through Tech and SecondMuse in support of Melinda Gates’ Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities initiative to increase the representation of women in tech fields in Chicago. The organizations hope to launch the first-ever regional, race and gender equity in tech dashboard.
“GET Cities and P33 share the same vision of bringing together a coalition of employers, universities and others around the community to unlock opportunities in tech for women and nonbinary people,” Katey Metzroth, Interim National Director of GET Cities, said.
To grow the city of Chicago into a leading tech hub, there needs to be a strong tech pipeline. With the help of Deloitte, P33 is also building what they aspire will become the world’s most dynamic and inclusive tech talent ecosystem through its P33 Talent Coalition project. This initiative is an employer-led solutions engine that connects technology and talent executives to ensure companies have access to the tech talent they need.
Developing next-generation talent is also a focus for the Chicago Quantum Exchange (CQE), a P33 partner that brings together researchers from academia, industry and national laboratories to advance quantum science and technology. P33 and CQE overlap in their aims to develop Chicago into the nation’s hub for quantum information science.
Earlier this summer, CQE institutions, alongside leaders from the Department of Energy, unveiled a “blueprint” for the quantum internet, putting a major stake in the ground to position Chicago as one of the leading global hubs for quantum research.
“All of our efforts help to build the quantum economy in Chicago and across the nation,” said Kate Timmerman, Chicago Quantum Exchange executive director. “But it will take partnerships with organizations such as P33 to help translate today’s research into the Chicago-led quantum industry of tomorrow.”
Together with the Chicago Quantum Exchange, P33 is developing a plan to better connect those existing resources and translate the quantum research into industry-led commercial viability.
P33 is also focused on finding solutions to close Chicago’s perception gap versus other tier one tech cities. The organization is looking to shape Chicago’s tech image to be known as one of the nation’s most powerful and fair cities for tech innovation.
“Chicago is relatively unknown as a tech hub, particularly its ability to influence the economic development and mobility of our city,” said Henderson, “but we have a great story to tell, and we want to make it heard around the world.”
P33 has achieved a lot in its first year, and expectations are only higher for what could come from the organization in the future. However, in a time when we could all use a helping hand, seeing an organization galvanize Chicagoland leaders and community members to band together to tackle some of the city’s most pressing issues proves how the second city is resilient.