Chicago Innovation Awards Reflection: Why You Should Attend Next Year

Read our first Chicago Innovation Awards 2013 reflection from Jennifer Wei and Ali Hemmati here

By Chacko Poothicote and Hantao Wang, current MEM students

The 12th annual Chicago Innovation Awards was held at a jam-packed Harris Theater in downtown Chicago. Winners included established companies as well as start-ups ranging from biotech to fast food industries. More than 1300 people attended the event on November 13.


Some memorable winners came from very different industries. For instance, Braintree is a payment company that developed the technology for phones to accept credit cards. Recently, Ebay purchased Braintree for $800 million. Braintree’s success is a classic example of why innovation matters, and if done right, can reap great rewards. Another great company that won is LifeSpine, based in Hoffman Estates. It specializes in the treatment of the spine, and manufactures surgical devices to treat spine disorders.

One of the highlight events came when Northwestern’s SiNode Systems and SwipeSense took center stage, winning in the up-and-comer category. SiNode Systems is made up of graduates from Kellogg and from McCormick School of Engineering; it is a lithium ion battery company that initially got its start in a NUvention course. Swipesense, co-founded by two Northwestern grads, makes a portable hand-sanitizing system. It was very inspirational to see Northwestern start-ups getting recognized on the big stage, and also making a positive impact in the society.


All the Chicago Innovation Award winners will get a chance to ring the bell at NASDAQ, and meet with the Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel and the Governor Pat Quinn. This event clearly shows the vibrant start-up and innovation scene in Chicago and highlights its recent spurt in growth. There were more than 500 nominations for the awards this year which is a record in the 12 year history of Chicago Innovation Awards.

There are a few reasons why I would recommend all MEM students to attend this event next year. The first, and the most important one, is to get inspired. I spoke to a fellow MEM student after the program and he was telling me how attending this event opened up entrepreneurship as a future career option. We learn a lot about entrepreneurship in the class but events like this solidify the concept by seeing real world success stories.


Another reason why MEM students should go is to experience firsthand the support system offered by this community. Everybody is eager to help each other and to work with innovative people – especially engineers with business acumen. So, please make sure each of you attend this event next year, or at least attend one of the events in 1871, an incubator in Chicago downtown, or TIC, an incubator in Evanston.

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