Chicago is emerging as a smart city leader in North America.

Winning the Race: Why the Midwest Can Be the Epicenter of IoT

There is a lot of regions aspiring to be “the next Silicon Valley.” But the Illinois Technology Association (ITA) strongly believes that Chicago and the Midwest don’t need to be “the next” anything.

There are so many things about Chicago that make it a unique tech hub: our proximity to a large number of Fortune 500 companies, our depth in B2B technology, and, as the IoT Council and its work helps to prove, our prominence in IoT.

We firmly believe that given our history, the Midwest is uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in IoT, more so than any other significant platform shift of the past 20 years. Why?

  1. The Midwest is the core of the nation’s manufacturing base, which is making a comeback. The efforts of UILabs DMDII are based on the belief that digital technologies will minimize the cost discrepancy with labor intense countries. IoT will require manufacturing prowess to build the devices that are necessary to enable this shift.
  2. Chicago has a keen history in software development, especially around transformative industries. Chicago is the intellectual base of software centered on solving business problems – a necessary ingredient for a leadership position in this space.
  3. Data Analytics. No community has seen a stronger aggregation of data analytics companies over the past 30 years. From SPPS to IRI and many in between, Chicago is home to both the collection of data and the analysis of it.
  4. Chicago has a strong based in the industrial, healthcare, retail, automotive and agricultural industries, all of which have been working in M2M (machine-to-machine) technology, the precursor to the Internet of Things, for many years. As IoT is implemented, much of the early adoption will be launched by Chicago companies.
  5. Government Commitment. The City of Chicago is emerging as a clear leader in the SmartCity space. The city is focused on using technology and data to make it as efficient and responsive as possible to resident and business needs.

Scheduled for November 2–4 in Chicago, the IoT Emerge conference will feature several speakers and companies from the Windy City. Code for a Complimentary Expo Pass: IOTEXPOPASS.

With a full year under our belt, we’ve learned a lot and made a lot of progress toward our mission. We started by establishing three key committees focused on 1) identifying all IoT companies in the Midwest; 2) telling the story of IoT in the Midwest; and 3) driving more capital investment. Desire to participate was overwhelming with over 200 companies getting engaged and involved. Because of the interest and passion level, we recently added three new committees:

  • Talent/Education: Addressing the talent needs for IoT companies, as well as those students interesting in pursuing careers in IoT
  • Policy: Understanding and influencing local policy to create a “pro-IoT” environment
  • Summit: Growing and strengthening the annual IoT Summit

We’ve recently completed and released the first draft of our Midwest IoT Inventory. After evaluating hundreds of companies, the IoT Council produced a first draft of approximately 70 companies based in the Midwest that are dedicated to IoT technology. The inventory showcases the breadth and depth of IoT in Chicago and the Midwest.

We are also getting ready to host our fourth – and largest – Internet of Things Summit.  This year’s event focuses on the key considerations (data, architecture) that are becoming more important as IoT matures.  The event also features the First Analysis Capital Conference where investors have the opportunity to hear from and learn about up-and-coming IoT companies. Because of deep involvement and commitment from First Analysis, a key partner of ITA’s, and Don DeLoach, CEO of InfoBright and co-chair of the IoT Council, we expect this year’s summit to drive even more attention to IoT in the Midwest. Bringing the knowledge and fire power of our partners to the table has helped us achieve scale that would not have been possible without them.

With all of our successes and progress there have been some stumbling blocks. Our most difficult challenge has been managing interest. As we’ve been getting up and running with the Council and the Committees, we’ve had more companies and individuals interested in participating than we have had roles to fill. However, now that we are in our second year, we’ve established regular committee meetings and have plenty of work to do, especially around policy and talent. If you are interested in getting involved, please let us know.

We are often asked if it’s difficult to bring these disparate groups together; to get academic, business, and government leaders to collaborate. The truth is that on this subject they are aligned. Our IoT Council and the broader IoT community within Chicago are all passionate and committed to making Chicago and the Midwest shine. The biggest challenge is simply getting them all in the same room (these are some busy people!). However, once we do, we find that goals are remarkably similar. The “how” might be different but all are working toward building their company; their community; their department into an IoT leader. And all recognize that if we do it together, it is only going to be better.

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