The Kellogg-minted team that honors Chicago innovators is building a new way to support the startup community — by connecting established business leaders’ problems to local startups that might have the solution.
“Startups have a hard time getting the ear of big companies. They may not have a lot of credibility, or know who to talk to,” says Luke Tanen ’14. “It makes sense to bridge these two worlds. You can think of what we’ve created as a matching program.”
The story of the Innovators Connection starts back in 2010.
While researching job postings, then-Kellogg student Luke Tanen came across an opening for a director’s job at the Chicago Innovation Awards, which showcases the region’s most imaginative new ventures. He noticed a somewhat familiar name: Tom Kuczmarski.
“This name Kuczmarski appeared in both places, the Chicago Innovation Awards and over at Kellogg,” Tanen says. “So, I just sent him a note one day, saying I think what he’s doing is really cool and that I’d love to interview for the position.”
Kuczmarski, one of the co-founders of the awards and a senior lecturer at Kellogg’s Center for Research on Technology & Innovation, met with Tanen. Kuczmarski soon realized that Tanen, who hails from New York, was passionate about working within Chicago’s startup business community.
“Luke was one of many great candidates who popped up, and he’s the one we hired,” says Kuczmarski, who runs an innovation consultancy and is considered one of the city’s foremost experts. “He’s a powerhouse. I just love working with him.”
A collaboration was born. And since moving up to executive director in 2012, Tanen has worked with Kuczmarski to expand the organization into new territories. Their latest is the Innovators Connection, which helps startups connect their services to big-name companies.