Dispatches From Chicago Ideas Week’s Opening Toast

The room was buzzing with excitement, and it wasn’t just because of the big-screen broadcast of the Cubs-Cardinals game, though the spirit of gleeful anticipation would have been right at home at Wrigley Field.

Monday marked the beginning of Chicago Ideas Week, the seven-day series of talks, labs, and events that temporarily turns Chicago into an innovation mecca. The week was kicked off with an opening toast held at the recently opened Studio Xfinity in Lincoln Park.

As the Cubs battled the Cardinals in their historic playoffs winning streak, yellow-nametagged entrepreneurs, students, and knowledge junkies shared their plans for the week with the fervor of die-hard fans. Attendees sipped champagne and excitedly shared their plans to attend events covering a rainbow of different topics, from leadership strategies to flower arranging to evolving gender roles to Dothraki.

“We’re involved because we want to engage with you and help bring about positive change,” said Comcast Vice President of Competitive Planning and Strategy Michael Soileau, opening the evening’s festivities. “Our goal is to support your creative efforts and advance your creative ideas – and provide technology infrastructure that can help you transform your ideas into reality.”

Iredia Alaye, a student at the Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University, praised Chicago for its recent emergence as an innovation hub, citing CIW as a main contributor. “I’m really excited about Chicago Ideas Week and seeing how Chicago’s becoming an innovation tech hub. Some people think that only New York City and San Francisco are the really big tech hubs, but to know that Chicago is building that is really exciting,” said Alaye.

“I’m interested in health and technology, and getting the different healthcare startups to be integrated into local practice, so I’m really excited that Chicago Ideas Week has a lot of health care focus and medicine focus. It’s really interesting that healthcare is becoming integrated into technology and innovation,” she said.

While Chicago Ideas Week is certainly rising to prominence on a national scale, it’s drawing international attention as well—like that of Siska Hrayani, for example, who arrived in Chicago from Indonesia only a few days prior. Hrayani, who has a background in the Indonesian Senate and is starting an internship with the Illinois State Treasury in a few days, stated she was “really looking forward to hearing the talk from the CNN reporter [Jessica Yellin].”

The various talks and labs at Chicago Ideas Week also serve as popular tools for corporate employee bonding, explained Sarah Myles of Edelman. “On Wednesday I’m going to the Wild Card talk, and then Thursday I’m doing the Shark Tank,” she said. “[Edelman] has this thing called Collaboration Coffee, and we got to rank 10 of the different events we wanted to attend. They then paired us up with other people at the company—we got paired together at random based on which talks we wanted to see.”

However, some attendees focused less on business side of things. “I’m doing the Flowers for Dreams lab tomorrow night,” said Molly Rosenfeld. “We get to make a bouquet for ourselves to take home, and a portion of the proceeds to go different charities. I’m just really excited to play with flowers, and to do it for a good cause.”

For others, Chicago Ideas Week serves as a big-picture representation of what can be achieved through risk-taking and collaboration. Isaac Steiner, of the experience design and strategy firm FuzzyMath, explained, “My favorite part about Chicago Ideas Week is also what my favorite part about design is in general, and that’s the idea of cross-pollination of diverse backgrounds and industries,” he said.

“We’re a consultancy, which means we already work with different projects and different ideas, so we already see the benefit of that—and something like this is so great, because the biggest challenge in any city, any group of people, any business, and any individual, is getting outside themselves,” Steiner explained, inadvertently summing up the ethos of Chicago Ideas Week. 

“By using other people’s ideas and sort of forcing yourself into the setting of being exposed to other people’s ideas, you get tremendous benefit.”

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