Denver and Chicago are just two of the dozens of American cities vying for the honor of being called “the next Silicon Valley.” In fact, both cities have already adopted a nickname for this purpose; Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins are part of “Silicon Mountain” while Chicago and Urbana-Champaign are part of the “Silicone Prairie.”
Both Chicago and Denver have already made significant progress with regard to their respective startup tech scenes, but it seems as though the Mile High City could learn a thing or two about the Windy City in this regard. Earlier this year, Chicago celebrated its State of Innovation, which is a comprehensive networking event for tech entrepreneurs, and there were a number of topics discussed at this event that Denver should pay close attention to.
First of all, while the organizers of the event agreed that the Chicago tech startup scene has come a long way in the last few years, they were careful about being overly optimistic. To be sure, there were plenty of projects celebrated at the event; however, the organizers also included space in the agenda to talk about how a lot more needs to be done for the purpose of remaining competitive.
Like Silicon Mountain in Denver, Silicon Prairie in Chicago is aware of the keen competition that exists in the tech startup space. To this effect, Chicago is aware that if investors like what they see in Denver, they will quickly take their money from the Windy City to the Mile High City. Then again, the panel at Chicago's State of Innovation knew how to pull at the civic heartstrings of the attendants when they reminded the audience that Martin Cooper, a Motorola engineer from Chicago, is the inventor of the mobile phone.
The Chicago event also reminded the audience that the pillars of their scene were education, talent, resources, and proper exit strategies. Another important topic discussed was the philosophy of disruption versus innovation, and how tech entrepreneurs should focus on the latter more than on the former. Innovation is something that mostly requires resources, which large companies have easy access to; disruption, on the other hand, requires conviction and a desire for tangible transformation.
In this regard, Denver has the upper hand insofar as the recent amendments of marijuana legislation, which was supported by the tech scene and continues to enjoy support in the creation of new apps and systems to support the cultivation, retail and distribution of marijuana in the jurisdictions where it s is legal to do so.
Among the various panels at the Chicago State of Innovation, one was dedicated to identifying the sectors that their local tech startup scene was getting proficient in, which includes game development, clean technology and the machine-to-machine (M2M) protocol that powers the Internet of Things.
In Denver, the emerging tech sectors are related to Big Data, enterprise cloud services, 3D printing, social media marketing, and the above-mentioned marijuana industry. While it is always a good idea to bring new sectors to a nascent tech startup scene, it is far more important to foster the current sectors that are finding success.
The interplay between the tech startup scene and the large corporations that operate in the region was another major topic discussed at the Chicago event. While large tech corporations are important in the sense that they are always seeking to either acquire tech startup companies or at least retain them on contract, it is also important to remember that large corporations can also be difficult to compete against in terms of competition due to how easily they can deliver on innovation. In the end, however, tech startups are always better at disruption.
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