Led by Illinois Tech Students, Chicago Startup Week Aims to Inspire Peers to Follow Their Passion

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By Andrew Wyder

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It’s a goal befitting both the event, Chicago Startup Week, and the organizer, Illinois Institute of Technology student group Intinium, which inspires fellow students to pursue their passions and follow their dreams.

“We really hope that we can encourage students specifically to think outside of the box,” says Justine Bracco (BENG 4th Year), an Intinium executive board member who is serving as the project lead for Chicago Startup Week, adding: “We really want students to know that there are other inspired, motivated [students] out there that want to work with them.”

A student-run event for high school and college students, Chicago Startup Week aims to bring them together with entrepreneurs, local government leaders, business and nonprofit professionals, and their peers to connect, share, and bond. The event, which features five full days of programming, will take place virtually from March 15–19.

Illinois Tech students from Intinium played key roles in organizing this year’s event. In addition to Bracco, that includes Jack Pio, Katja Berthold, Pranav Nair, Seth Wissenback, Matt Nicole Fajardo, André J. Guardia, Lout Verder, Hareem Akram, and Sara Hassell. Techstars Chicago, an accelerator for startups and the presenting partner of Chicago Startup Week, asked the Illinois Tech students to lead the event.

“We applaud their leadership in helping to bring together the city’s innovation ecosystem and thank them for representing Illinois Tech so well,” Illinois Tech Provost Peter Kilpatrick says of the students.

Since October the Illinois Tech students have guided all facets of the projects with students from organizations representing Northwestern University, Loyola University Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, City Colleges of Chicago, and Chicago’s Lane Tech College Prep High School—from determining panels and seeking out guest speakers to securing sponsors for the event and getting the word out so that students will attend.

Fajardo (CPE 2nd Year), who serves as Intinium president, took on a role as creative director and was tasked with coming up with the big ideas that would direct which topics were discussed during panels and other events throughout the week.

“We’re hoping that Chicago will turn into the perfect place where entrepreneurial students are able to create positive change and innovate within the community,” Fajardo says. “We want Chicago to be filled with opportunities, tools, and supportive people so that students can really take action.

“My initial mission for this first [event], since we’ve never done something like this before, was to basically establish that entrepreneurial community within the different schools.”

There will be approximately 66 individual events such as customer discovery, intellectual property strategy, and women in entrepreneurship and topics such as entrepreneurial behaviors and the Chicago startup and innovation ecosystem. Each day will be themed to bring more cohesion to the programs, including themes such as Mythbusters Monday, where all the events will be either proving or disproving a common myth about entrepreneurship. Students can also participate in a membership program, pitch competition, and startup symposium.

Among the event’s keynote speakers are Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot; rapper and activist Vic Mensa; tastytrade co-founder, co-chief executive officer, and president Kristi Ross; Ocient chief executive officer and co-founder Chris Gladwin, an Illinois Tech trustee; and other local startup and entrepreneurial figures set to appear and present along with the students themselves.

“It has been a huge learning experience. I’ve personally never worked on something this big before, on this level,” Farjardo says, adding: “It has been a really great networking experience, too, because I get to meet so many students from different universities, and they have all of the same like-mindedness of just being super ambitious with this.”

Bracco adds, “It’s the biggest and scariest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s going to be awesome.”

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